View Full Version : At wits end...

23rd November 2012, 03:44 PM
Hi all,

I have followed this site since I got my Cavalier a year and a half ago, but only posted when he was brand new. Reading your posts have helped a lot in raising him. I know that at 19 months dogs can be quite a challenge and this is the time most people give up. I swore that would not happen to me but I am really at my wits end here.

My husband does not really care much for dogs but agreed for me and the children. I grew up with dogs and think that they are a very good influence for children. Also we have an autistic 11 year old son, and I had read literature about autistic children and dogs.

We got the puppy from a good breeder who is registered with the Dog Society here in Iceland. He is quite wonderful, sweet and loving. But he is also very independent and stubborn, and it seems that even though he knows the rules, he decides that it is worth it to break them. Seems like he did not get the memo about Cavaliers wanting to please :) He is not allowed in the kitchen but still sneaks in there and even onto the kitchen table if there is food. He jumps up on the children if they have food. We have to put him in another room if we are watching TV and have snacks, he canīt leave them alone no matter how many times we say no. Still I always give him a chance and end up having to remove him.

We did a puppy class with the dog society here and he passed with no problems. He is a fast learner and will do anything for a treat, grooming is no problem if there are treats involved.

So the problem is this greediness for our food. We give him very good dog food that I order, not store bought and he has dog treats.

This is really becoming a big problem for our family, the house is becoming tense and I am about to give up. My autistic son wants to spend all his time at his grandparents, I think the dog is partly the reason for that. It is too difficult for him to see the dog breaking the rules again and again and watching me discipline him, (saying "no" with an authoritative voice).

I have talked to friends that have Cavaliers and none of them have had this same problem. I love my dog but I am starting to feel that he is to difficult for me and our situation (a husband who does not really care for animals and five kids). I have always said that if I could raise an autistic son to be so wonderful as mine is, a dog should not be so difficult. We did applied behavior analysis for our son when he was younger so I know the methods.

This is a bit long and confusing, but I am sitting here with tears in my eyes because I just do not know what to do. Giving up and finding him another home will be such a failure but I just canīt go on like this.

Thank you all, I hope someone can give me advise.


23rd November 2012, 05:58 PM
Could you try hiring a private trainer to come into your home? I think that may be your best bet, to stop the problem in the environment where it happens. It may be a bit expensive but I think it would be worth it. You never know - it may only take a couple sessions to stop the problem. Also, Im not sure if you feed the dog people food when you're eating or if the kids do, but if that happens would be important to stop that. There's nothing wrong with giving him some healthy people food, but just make sure you arent giving it to him while you are eating it, because he would learn that he gets what you get, when you are getting it.

Good luck, I hope everything works out for you!

23rd November 2012, 06:25 PM
Hi and so sorry you feel you are at this crossroads. I think you need to try and look at this with less emotion as hard as that may be (just to give you some breathing space to consider what to do) and especially I hope you will stop feeling any of this is a sign of 'failure' :flwr: -- all these things truly are normal dog behaviours, some that can be trained for but many which are simply managed by dog lovers. There is no 'failure' on your cavalier's part or yours. There may be, however, a confusing situation for both your cavalier and your family where (as you correctly feel) some decision needs to be taken both for the dog's sake and yours. That WILL mean reapprasing what life with a dog means, what expectations should be there for family members and not just the dog, and a decision on whether the family wants to either 1) accept the current situation as just part of what is normal -- more or less :) --in owning a dog, not a training or behaviour crisis; 2) opt to work towards some change and get a commitment from all to address what you'd like to change and then work towards that (which also requires a changed view of what it means to own a dog, especially as people-focused a breed as a cavalier, which will be naturally distressed at being shut out of family affairs and interactions) or 3) accept that this isn't perhaps the right time for a dog in the family; or that cavaliers might be the wrong match in terms of family expectations, or that having one half of the couple really not wanting a dog means it isn;t fair to family or dog ot try to have a dog.

I don't know which of these is the right answer. That is something that really needs some honest discussion from within your family.

Some of what you discuss as a problem, is actually intrinsic to the breed (see my post on whether a cavalier is the right breed, 'considering a cavalier', pinned in the Library section... some things that one person will find endearing and attractive about the breed can definitely be overwhelming and/or annoying to another person!) -- they adore food and there's a belief that genetically they probably lack the 'switch-off' food gene that curbs appetite. Therefore the desire for food tends to be something (as in many individual dogs as well as predisposed breeds like labs too!) that must be well managed -- it is a real challenge to train dogs to just ignore food items they want, especially if no people are around.

Some of what you describe are -- yes -- basic training issues that are never resolved by taking a single class but which need lifelong and often daily practice and fun. positive reinforcement -- such as jumping on kids (extremely common!!! especially if they have food! for ANY dog). This is not stubbornness -- it truly is just basic training and regular positive reinforcement. :) Working with a positive methods trainer with some at home advice might help to resolve some of these issues by getting correct guidance and a working plan that involves ongoing active training and practice with all the family. :)

Now that said -- you raise several issues that would make me feel that maybe your family right now is not really at the point when a dog is a good mix. It is always a very serious problem if half of a couple does not want a dog or dislikes dogs -- that means so many prospective as well as real problems. Most breeders and rescues would never home a dog to such a situation of the family had been clear that one of the two adult members felt this way, simply to spare the heartache that can result. First, a dog likely picks up on this, which can create anxiety and tension that in turn gets expressed in anxious and/or unwanted behaviours. Maybe that is part of what you are seeing. Also, it means one critical person for positive reinforcement, management and training simply is not there -- and by lack of consistency in management and training, and negative feedback to the dog (eg punishment that often reinforces the unwanted behaviour) means ongoing confusion for the dog and no gains in behaviour regardless of how others are committed to training.

Then there's likely some increased tension within the family due to worry when a dog does not do what they hope and growing anxiety that a short term fast answer is needed -- which just is not possible in training. And sometimes is very difficult with certain dogs, especially very bright active cavaliers that want and need regular interaction and significant amounts of exercise and brain activity -- eg at least a an hour of very active exercise, agility, daily training sessions and games. I have one dog liek this -- the love of my life but he is challenging and would NOT be the right choice for many families and n doubt would seriously aggravate a person who dislikes dogs.

Part of the issue may well be that your cavalier and autistic son don't really mix, creating anxiety on one or both sides. Dogs can be fantastic for autistic kids but they do tend to need to be very gentle and stable dogs, often an older dog. Autistic kids can find an active and fast moving and smaller dog worrying. There are many autistic child families who get service dogs but these are almost always larger steady breeds that are well trained and have a quiet personality (for the individual dog -- it isn't just breed but individual). eg friends of mine with an autistic child have a lab/staffie mix; autistic service dogs tend to be labs, shepherds, labradoodles, golden retrievers. A very calm and easy cavalier would no doubt be a good potential companion with an autistic child but such a dog is best got as an adult where the personality is already well known.

At face value and in all honesty, I would say that your description of the current situation makes it sounds like your family life would be less tense and unhappy without a dog, and that your dog would also be a better fit in a different family. There's no shame in that -- it also is so much better to realise this early and not make things worse for the family, your son, your spouse and your cavalier by trying to continue in a situation that at least now, is not working. Perhaps it is fairer to your partner and any dog to decide that maybe a cat is a better match, or a dog might be something for the future when kids have grown and you can give a lot of personal time to a dog that won't need full-family support and participation... maybe working with an organisation that places dogs with autistic families might be a better option too (personally I would just be reluctant to mix a special needs child with the wrong dog -- so much could go wrong on both sides of that equation, unintentionally :( ).

It takes love and courage to know you are in the situation you have reached, and to know something has to change. None of the alternatives is a fast and easy resolution. From a distance I think none of us can advise you as to what is right and realistic and also, what is best for your autistic son (whom I would consider the most important factor here in many ways). But as I say: from what you describe it really sounds as if the best solution for both family, son and cavalier is to rehome your cavalier and take sometime to consider whether any dog is the right mix at least at this time for your young family.

I would go back and talk to your breeder if you feel you cannot keep your cavalier. A responsible breeder will be eager to help you and will take back any dog of her breeding and this will make things at least on that side, so much easier for you to not have to also worry about rehoming directly yourselves. But I am sure you would not have difficulty in finding a new home for him either. :flwr:

23rd November 2012, 09:49 PM
I agree with Karlin, "it takes love and courage to know you are in the situation you have reached, and to know something has to change" At very least call the breeder and see what his/her policy is about helping rehome a puppy. This would give you options.

If it helps at all Fletcher is VERY food driven too. We have needed to change the way we do things in our house to make it work. Like I feed Fletcher in his crate when we are eating and he does not come out until we are done. If I don't want dogs in the kitchen I use a baby gate, and less snacks in the living room. We had family pizza and movie night last weekend this is really the only times I allow eating a meal in the living room. Fletcher had just been for a nice long walk when the pizza arrived so I didn't feel too bad about putting him in his crate until the pizza was gone. He is getting pretty good with the "leave it" command however when it comes to food all bets are off. From what I get a cavalier's like to act like the are starved to death and most are very food driven.

You understandably have a lot on your plate. A husband who's not into dogs AND 5 children is a lot, I can totally see why you feel at wits end.

Personally and I mean PERSONALLY just me, I would have a little heart to heart with hubby and make some decision soon. Either you are going to commit to making owning this dog work or not. It has nothing to do with failure by the way there are just so many factors at play.

24th November 2012, 09:48 AM
It may in fact be the best thing for all concerned if your dog were placed in a new home. However, if you want to work with him further and don't have access to a private trainer, you might want to look into Susan Garrett's training work called "It's Yer Choice." Her work uses very little or no correction and relies on "shaping" the dogs behavior by letting it know when it is doing what you want. There are videos online, and numerous other trainers have built on her work and written about it. Here is a blog about her methods: http://gentledogs.wordpress.com/tag/its-yer-choice/, and here is a video of her training: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ipT5k1gaXhc&feature=youtube_gdata_player.

Good luck--you clearly have your hands full. I've always found one of the hardest parts of consistent training with a dog is having everyone in the dogs universe on the same page, and that is difficult to do with five kids!

25th November 2012, 09:02 PM
Thank you all so much for your feedback, it has really made me feel a lot better.

Karin, your reply has helped me put the whole situation in a new perspective. I really looked on re-homing him as a total failure and as a result of that an end to me ever having a pet. Now that I have finally reached the stage that in my mind re-homing is an option, I feel that I donīt really want to do it when I think of myself, but I still have to take all factors into consideration. The kids, my husband and of course what is best for the dog.

The thing is I got this dog mostly for myself, I love dogs. It can be great for kids to have a dog, but that should never be the deciding factor. The person who will take care of his needs is the one that has to want one. This was to me the perfect timing because I am a university student and am home studying most days, have to go away just an hour or two. He cuddles at my feet when I am studying and listens to me talk "shop". So for the past year and a half, during the daytime itīs just him and me. I donīt expect to work until next autumn and then hopefully at a part time job.

A good talk with my husband is in order about whether he will he be able to change his attitude. My five year old twins love the dog almost as much as I do, so taking him from them would be difficult. A big concern is that maybe the dog deserves better.

If I decide to keep him with us I will look into getting a trainer to help. We never give him people food intentionally, he only gets it when he "steals" it.

Thank you again so much.

best wishes, Hrafnhildur

26th November 2012, 12:10 AM
I am glad the perspectives of different people helped you think about what you want to do next. :flwr:

I think there are a lot of things that can be done to make it all work out, where you can keep your cavalier and integrate him into family life in a way that makes people feel happier. If you need to rehome -- of course it isn't failure.

One thing that might help give you a fresh angle on training is Dr Ian Dunbar's free book download, After You Get Your Puppy.


You might check this out before making a decision. I think you will feel reassured that you aren't dealing with a deviant dog :D and also will get some great training and management ideas. This is a great book not just for puppies but rescue dogs and *anyone* who owns a dog of any age. :)

One thing that might help would be to get a dog playpen (xpen) -- these have panels that fit together and create a moveable pen that a dog can go into with its bed or crate. It is one of the most useful things to own -- a dog can go in during mealtime for example and remains part of the family but separate. You can put a favourite toy inside or a chew. Do you have a Kong toy? These are great for keeping a dog busy and you can actually put a dog's entire meal inside or use lowcal ingredients like mashed banana to hold a few kibbles and then freeze. Just keep in mind the extra calories for the dog and subtract from mealtimes. This would be great for a 19 month old -- a lively age! Also a Kong gives a well trained dog sent to his bed, something to do as well and is a great motivator. My partner's alsatian spends hours chewing his (unstuffed...).

Ian Dunbar has examples of playpen setups and Kong type toys.

I think you will also want to focus on getting your dog trained to sit rather than jump when new people arrive or the kids come in, etc. A sitting dog cannot jump and cannot do other annoying things! But as Ian Dunbar points out, positive training is what makes the trade off of learning some self-control, worthwhile for your dog. So the way to train makes a difference.

I'd also talk to whatever organisations you have in Iceland that work with autistic children. I bet they will have someone who knows a lot about dogs and kids that can give some good suggestions on managing a dog in a household with an autistic child.

And a good honest talk with your husband I think will really help. If your cavalier is very important to your own sense of happiness then maybe you can work out a compromise. :) I've found that there are ways a spouse can really end up excited about a dog -- for example, doing agility together!

26th November 2012, 12:19 AM
Some other links that might help:

A whole set of links and info on kids and dogs:


Some great general advice that can help avoid a lot of dog problems:


26th November 2012, 11:23 PM
Thank you again Karin :)

I had followed your site for a while before I got Kofri, so I had downloaded Ian Dunbars books and read them. I followed them when he was a puppy, but I guess it is time to open them up again, I probably fell into the trap of forgetting that raising a dog is an ongoing process. I followed his advice and set up a pen for Kofri, central in the house, which is his room, there he has his crate, a soft blanket, his big beanbag he likes to sleep on and a doggy bed. This is where he sleeps at night and where he is during our meals. He has his meals there also. So after my exams finnish in the middle of December, I will reread and do my best to fix this problem.

thank you again,