Luna first presented to us in April of 2017. Her owner was having difficulties in controlling her behaviour and had prior been in contact with vets, behaviourists, trainers and people with an interest in the Malinois breed.
What can happen quite often with dogs that are having severe behavioural difficulties is that the owner finds themselves overwhelmed with different schools of advice. Dog behaviour and training is not an exact science and there are many different methods and ways to get to a specific goal. One grave issue that people can run into in this country is that anyone can call themselves a behaviourist or a trainer. There are no real governing bodies and it’s important that if you do reach out for advice that you properly vet the individual or individuals you are receiving assistance from.
Luna was obtained from a breeder at ten weeks of age and she was reared in a barn on a farmyard. From what we can gather, no real care or consideration was taken from a human standpoint for any socialisation or training from the breeder. This is probably where things first went wrong for Luna. Puppies, no matter how young, still have very important behavioural needs. Ten weeks to us is not a very long time, but ten weeks to a dog is probably akin to three years of development in human ageing. If you can imagine the behavioural detriments from keeping a human child in one room for the first three years of their life, then you can probably quite easily see why even as a breeder, its imperative that behavioural, not just physical needs are met at this early stage.
After being brought home, Luna was found to be a very shy puppy. She wouldn’t seek out human attention and didn’t really have any confidence. She had moved from an extremely rural setting to one in the city and had received very little stimulation prior to this move. She was now surrounded by people, traffic and the sounds, visual stimulation and smells of city life. As explained in a prior article, the Malinois is still very much a working breed and requires a lot of mental and physical stimulation from a very early age or things can very easily go very wrong. Luna unfortunately was put on cage rest at 12 weeks of age and this continued for four weeks. She was crated for eight hours a day while her owner was at work and this is when her severe behavioural issues started to manifest.
Luna had started to lick at the sides of the crate which resulted in large amounts of drool collecting around her bedding. Videos we were shown also showed a dog that was biting and snapping at shadows. She would very quickly become fixated on shadows and had a huge compulsion to bite and grab both stationary and moving objects. This made it next to impossible to safely walk her outside on a lead as she would either bite and grab the lead, lunge toward any moving object or become fixated on shadows or patterns on the ground. When she was not allowed to engage in these behaviours, she was very quickly to redirect her need to bite onto her owner. While she never broke skin, at her time of presentation, her owner believed she was escalating and it was only a matter of time before a bruise became a full bite.
The Malinois as a breed are prone to these bite and grab behaviours, they are generally very mouthy and many Malinois owners jokingly refer to them as “Malligators.” The problem with Luna is that these behaviours had very quickly become obsessive and compulsive.
Compulsive behaviour and stereotypies in dogs are considered to have their roots in underlying emotional conflict and stress. In addition to this there is growing evidence linking these behaviours with various neurological and genetic sources. Compulsive disorders appear most commonly seen in genetically predisposed individuals that are subjected to chronic or recurrent conflict or frustration or whose behavioural needs are not adequately met.
Luna’s behavioural problems have most likely resulted from a number of factors. A poor breeding environment, poor understanding of breed requirements and confinement and lack of stimulation at a key developmental stage. She was also extremely humanised. As any experienced guarding breed owner will tell you, these breeds don’t do very well with being “babied” and this in itself can cause severe behavioural issues.
All of these factors ultimately made for an extremely anxious and easily stressed dog who’s only form of relief is to engage in obsessive behaviours. Due to a lack of mental and physical stimulation, these behaviours very quickly became her only source of entertainment so understandably, she will revert to them at any given opportunity.
Disorders such as this can also be looked at as self-soothing behaviours. As with Bear (another one of our dogs with stereotypic behaviours), Luna was very quick to resort to these behaviours when her anxiety and stress levels were raised.
When Luna first presented to us, our main goal was to get her stress levels down and her stimulation level increased. We started off with sending her out into the field with her owner to play with the agility equipment. Luna took to this like a duck to water, but if there was any break in the training, she would very quickly start to bite and grab at stones or grass. We also worked on her lead training, but her need to bite and grab at the lead was so strong, she initially had to be muzzled for this.
Unfortunately, while things did move forward with her behavioural issues, Luna ultimately had to be surrendered to us as her owner eventually realised that she just did not have the time that Luna needed. Training is not a twenty minutes a few times a week, it is constant, even more so with a dog with difficulties and with a breed like the Malinois, eight hours a day while you’re at work is a lot of time lost.
Work was continued with Luna at the kennels, she was integrated with the pack and seemed to greatly enjoy the company of other dogs, but she still needs a lot of one on one time.
She will receive daily training and rehabilitation but it is more than likely that Luna will never fully be “cured.” Dogs with Luna’s issues require careful management and a crucial understanding of their triggering points, the ultimate goal is to reduce stress and reduce her need to engage in her compulsive behaviours.
The Malinois is not a breed to be taken on lightly. We’re finding more and more of them to be in crisis in recent years and examples like Luna show just how much damage can be done in a very short space of time (in her case, twelve weeks). For whatever reason, people either don’t educate themselves, or properly take on board what they are being told about the breed.
Luna has been one of the lucky ones (as far as “lucky” can go). She was taken out of an environment that was ultimately to her detriment before a severe incident was allowed to happen. There have been others that have not been so lucky and have probably lost their lives because of it. Luna’s original owner was quick to realise she was out of her depth with the dog she had acquired. She worked tirelessly to try and find help where others would, and have, just given up.
Luna is a very special girl who we all took to very quickly and she is a dog that none of us will ever forget. She is a prime example of the breed and has a wonderful drive and propensity to work. Sadly she was not initially given the proper opportunities to channel that drive and she has suffered for it greatly.
We extend our greatest thanks to everyone involved in Luna’s case from the start.