Clingy, Needy Dog & Frustrated Owner
First, I apologize for this long post. However, I believe better suggestions would be given with a thorough, detailed explanation.
Three months ago, my wife and I adopted a 16 month old cattle dog mix. He is about 40 pounds. We have known him and his litter mates since they were six weeks old. These puppies were housed together at an animal rescue. He lived there for over a year. He was given daily attention by one primary care giver who owns the rescue. Volunteers would come out each week to play with the puppies, walk them, and socialize them. They spent time with other dogs and also with horses, pigs, turkeys, ducks, chicken, goats, and sheep. They were spayed/neutered, received all their vaccinations, and an excellent diet. At about 2-3 months old, a dog trainer started coming by once a week for puppy obedience school. They all learned how to sit and to walk on a leash. The trainer had some problems discouraging them from jumping and climbing up on people. The trainer continued to work with them until the puppies left the ranch. All 6 puppies were housed together (a big dog run attatched to the entry way of a house--the puppies had free run to come and go in and out of the house as they pleased). Three of the puppies (all female) were adopted out by the time they were 6 months old. The three male puppies remained. Four days before we adopted "Pete" he was moved to a non-kill shelter where he and his remaining litter mates would have more exposure to potential adopters. Both the rescue owner and the shelter said the three young dogs made the transition with ease. We selected Pete because the other two male puppies acted highly submissive--very slinky and sulky around people. I would even say one of them was a potential fear biter... as he would slink down and then suddenly whip around at the person attending to him. Pete displayed none of these behaviors since we had known him. We would walk him at the animal rescue and he seemed to be a happy, well-adjusted dog.
Now that we have had him for a few months, we see that Pete is extremely clingy and needy, though fails to exhibit many of the other separation anxiety signs. Whenever a person walks into a room where he is, he becomes instantly over-stimulated. Sometimes he urinates, but not often. He jumps all over the person--sometimes nearly knocking them over (which is quite the feat for a 40# dog). We have tried a number of things to discourage this behavior (from holding him up in an up position until he asks to be let down, having him sit and wait until he calms [you can literally wait 10 minutes and he will still not settle] before giving him attention, having the person go out and come back in the room so we can practice his greeting, trying to get him to learn to go to his bed with a treat each time somebody comes in, gently pushing him down until all four paws hit the ground and then giving him attention, associating four paws on the ground with treats and a clicker). I can honestly say that none of that has worked. My wife and I are horse trainers and farriers. We aren't completely inexperienced with animals and undertand operant conditioning using both positive and negative reward. My wife also worked for a small animal vet and for a kennel for a number of years. She has never seen the like of his resistance to learning. After three months he still repeatedly jumps all over us and everyone else. After repetive (and I do mean repetitive, very patient) training sessions, we went to negative reinforcement. We tried pinning him to the ground and asking for submission. That didn't work. The only thing that has somewhat discouraged the behavior is a sharp "No!" with a light swat on the butt (not hard or painful, more like a newspaper swat) or a loud clap of the hands. I can literally walk out the door, close it, come right back in and the behavior starts all over again--taking him about 10-15 minutes to stop jumping.
This is only part of his issue. Basically, whenever he is around a person (any person), he cannot help himself. He'll try to sit right on them. Even with his body pressed hard against that person, he'll then slowly start to climb on them. First with one paw, then two. He licks obsessively faces and hands. If a person shows attention to another person or animal, he'll insert himself between the two people and begin his slow climb. We have both tried constantly since we got him to discourage this behavior by gently pushing him away and then holding him there. He will not relax. If we release the hold, he will go instantly to his wriggling, jumping, out of control state and it begins all over again. He will not just sit or lie quietly, even if he can see us. I know many people recommend that if a dog is clingy, not to give attention to the clingy behavior, push the dog away until the dog settles, and then give attention and praise. I get the theory and have had it work on other dogs. But not Pete. He just will not settle at all unless we completely ignore him--and I do mean completely. If we ignore him and he settles down and we give praise--either verbal or physical, he goes right back to his neurotic clinging and climbing.
I have tried getting him to focus on other things instead. When he becomes extra needy, I send him on a treat hunt in the room or work with him on tricks, rewarded with small treats--sit, lie down, shake. I thought he would become happier if he had a job to do. He has never been scolded during trick training time and we always try to make it a really fun affair (using the treats he loves and giving pets and pats). I have had to stop as he sulks, slinks, and becomes very guilty. He avoids making eye contact with me (or anybody that is trying to interact with him in this manner). Sometimes he'll suddenly flatten his body to the ground and run away like he's been hit. I know that where he came from he was never abused. This behavior seems to be getting worse and worse.
I should probably mention that whenever he is given physical attention of any kind, he becomes overly submissive and guilty. Never has he given a wag of his tail or a smiley face when he has been patted.
I do take him for several small walks each day and usually one long walk (he either jogs with me or goes for a bike ride). He is great on the leash and relaxes--no neurotic behaviors. He has had a few potty accidents in the house, but nothing consistent, and has not been spanked for those at all.
It does not appear that he enjoys doing much, however. He has no inclination to play fetch. He will take treats by hand, but if we try to give him a toy by hand, he will shrink away and run and hide. We have gotten him used to going for car rides (which he was terrified of at first). He has been consistently enjoying his car rides with us for about 6 weeks. All of a sudden a couple days ago, he refused to get into the car. He got panicky, flying around at the end of his leash, thrashing. Then he ran under the vehicle and hid. He eventually came out with much coaxing but had to be lifted into the car. Once inside he settled down. About two days later a similar thing happened but this time it was coming out of the vehicle. I had arrived at home and he just went ballistic--trying to force himself between the seat and door of the side opposite me.
It appears he cannot just relax around people. If somebody is in the room, he is literally climbing all over them. In the end, we have to remove him from the room. We try putting him in the backyard, but if he can see somebody, he barks and slams himself into the glass door. If we take him into a room where he cannot see anybody, he does settle really quickly and is largely not destructive.
I am getting very frustrated. I know there is always an adjustment period for a new dog--especially one coming from a rescue. I had thought, however, that we would see at least some progress by this point. We can do the same exercise with Pete just a few times or forty times in a row and he just doesn't seem to get any of it. I have previously trained three puppies how to be good, loving, family dogs with excellent manners--and they were wonderfully adjusted and very happy dogs. I know Pete didn't come from an abusive background and we have certainly never been mean to him. He just can't seem to let go of his neurosis. We are trying everything we know to do... but his neediness seems to only worsen, as does his guilty behavior. I would appreciate any help or suggestions.