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Hello!

I'm new here and found you on the advice of a friend who had poodles and got some good advice here years ago. I have a miniature poodle, male, 13 years old, who I love dearly. He is an indoor dog with access to a big yard outside through a doggy door (which he refuses to use . . . but that's a story for another day). He has a furry dog sister (terrier, 1 yr) he plays with daily, a furry cat sister (3 yrs) he plays and cuddles with, and a less furry human sister (7) who dotes on him like a baby. He is our sweetest love. BUT over the last couple of years he has developed a terrible habit of screeching/screaming/yelping (?) -- I'm not sure what to call it -- at absolutely everything. It's the loudest, highest pitched, scream you've ever heard. It literally makes my ears ring when it happens in my lap. He does it for everything. Startled? Scream. Excited? Scream. Tummy ache? Scream. Steps on a stick? Scream. Not, like, I just hurt my foot so I'm screaming. More like I don't like this mud's consistency, so I think I'll scream right quick. Screaming.

His regular checkup shows no health abnormalities in physical examination or bloodwork. Ears and eyes are good. Teeth are good. X-rays show the beginnings of a very slight fusion in his neck and some super minor arthritis in his back left knee, which we treat with daily pain meds. We've gone so far as trying 100 mg Gabapentin twice daily to make sure the screams aren't in response to pain. The vet says he should be TOTALLY pain free with that dosage, but still he screams. At everything. Today he was sleeping in the office near my desk and I moved my foot, bumping the desk. It startled him ten feet away. Scream. When people come to visit, the screaming is awful. He rushes to meet them, but any quick movements on their part (an enthusiastic hello, bending down to pet him, setting down coats or bags) causes a series of screams between excited barks. It's like he's adopted this as his happy sound, too, and it is earsplitting. I am at a total loss on what to do to get him out of this habit. We try to have no reaction to avoid him getting extra attention from it, but it's always so loud and so sudden that you can't help but jump. I feel confident it has nothing to do with his neck or pain. An MRI shows nothing internal. He plays HARD with his sisters. Wrestles like a puppy, biting, rolling around on the ground, and doesn't make a peep. Runs up and down the stairs super fast. Jumps on the bed and sofa with ease. But if anything happens that bothers him at all, he screams. We've started him on Prozac to see if it may be some manifestation of anxiety (?), but I'm at my wits end.

Has anyone else experienced this? Found anything that works? I don't know if I should call a behavioral expert/trainer, continue to look for health triggers, or just buy everyone in the house some industrial strength earplugs and stop inviting people over.

Worried about (our) hearing loss,
Ollie'sMama
 

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Since you have had a vet check and there doesn't seem to be anything medical to account for these behavior changes I think I would consult a behaviorist.
 

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I'm glad you've joined us! And I agree with @lily cd re that a behaviourist might be able to help assess him better. Here's a good place to start:


I'm sure many would do remote assessments and/or consulting right now.

Has Ollie's behaviour changed at all otherwise? Does he seem more nervous? Or more sensitive? Does he flinch a lot, that sort of thing? Since he's not in pain, I wonder if he might actually have some hearing loss.

It's also possible something happened way back at the start of all this that didn't seem like a big deal to you, but seemed like a VERY big deal to him. And this is how he's learned to cope.
 

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Thank you so much for the resource! I wasn't sure where to begin with this sort of thing.

(Re: Has Ollie's behaviour changed at all otherwise? Does he seem more nervous? Or more sensitive? Does he flinch a lot, that sort of thing? Since he's not in pain, I wonder if he might actually have some hearing loss.)

I actually worried about hearing loss first because our older dog (who passed a little over a year ago) had total hearing loss due to late stage Cushing's. We took Ollie to the specialist his brother (in love) saw but his hearing checked out top notch. The same with his eyes. I really want (selfishly) this to be a physical ailment so I can help him stop the behavior and alleviate whatever trigger might be causing it, but we just haven't found anything.

(Re: It's also possible something happened way back at the start of all this that didn't seem like a big deal to you, but seemed like a VERY big deal to him. And this is how he's learned to cope.)

This is what I'm afraid of. We've had a few very chaotic years, moving twice, and in a constant state of renovation in our current home. We had to put our oldest down at 17.5 four years ago with a brain tumor, then two years later (last year) our next one reached 16 and we lost him due to complications from advanced Cushing's. Even though we have done our best to pour extra love and attention his way, he was just so sad after that loss. We got him a puppy last Christmas and his puppy-like joy returned. It's very difficult to pinpoint when, exactly, the screeching started. My husband says he remembers him screeching for most of his life, especially when coming in and getting startled by the doggy door flap, but I don't remember him doing it consistently until about two years ago. And now that both of us are home 24/7 and homeschooling our daughter due to my high-risk status for COVID, I feel like it's only intensified. We don't go a single day without at least 3 or 4 screams. And (though this may be selective memory), I can't remember ever hearing him do it when he's not in the room with us for attention. Maybe related and maybe not, he has now decided not to use the dog door at all and asks to be let out and back in, crying and barking for access and not even breaking his protest when it's cold or raining outside. I read a number of articles on retraining with a dog door. We purchased a completely clear door based on the suggestion that he might fear what he can't see. And we made sure it was one with adjustable magnets and a very light flap so that it would be easy to open and not heavy on his tail end to close. If I stand next to the door and tell him to go outside, he will use the flap. But if I walk away and he's ready to come back in, he will stand outside the doggy door and bark until I come to the doggy door and tell him to come inside (and he'll use the door to do so if I'm standing there). This behavior is what leads me to believe the screech has become a tool he uses because it gets EVERYONE's attention immediately. I'm just not sure what to do about it.

I'm going to see what I can find via the link you gave me later this evening. Thank you so much for the help!
 

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It really could be so many things, but it does sound a little like he's training you. Dogs (especially intelligent dogs) are good at doing what works best for them.

I'm sure you've already tried this, but ignoring his screams would be my first step in dealing with this (after ruling out health issues, of course). I'd probably simultaneously teach him some better, even more efficient, even more rewarding ways to meet his needs.

Easier said than done, right? A behaviourist should be able to help you make a plan.
 

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I absolutely second finding a behaviorist!

I can't imagine the "scream" you describe, but my pup came to our house as an EXTREMELY vocal pup (I think I actually asked for advice about it somewhere on this sub). Since then, we tried to teach her ways to ask for the things she wants instead of whining for them and it has helped a lot.

So I guess one thing to consider is, does the screaming seem to be the pup asking for something? To get pet, to get let outside, etc. etc. and is there an alternate behavior you could teach instead?

Example: My puppy used to whine profusely when I got her food ready or before going out the door. I started asking for her to sit, so she learned sitting was the "asking" and she didn't need to whine, and after it became routine she will sit w/o being asked. This has cut her whining down a lot (she still whines out of excitement and frustration and anxiety sometimes, though).

Just something to try, I'm not an expert but this helped my pup a lot. But a professional would be able to assess you dog's body language etc. much better!
 

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Sounds like a behaviorist would be helpful. On the same wavelength as Chicken, some families teach their dogs to ring a bell to signal that they need to go out. The bell isn't a doorbell exactly, it's more like a string of sleigh bells ('tis the season) tied to the doorknob, that their dogs can nose or paw or otherwise jingle (sorry) to ask for help. This is not as convenient as using the doggy door, but might replace the 5-alarm screech.
 

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When our cat suffered mental deterioration from aging, he began loudly meowing for no reason. It started when he lost his companion cat, but it got really bad over time.

It was only when we finally had to let him go at 17 that the vet mentioned that older pets sometimes do this. If he's always been a screamer, then it's probably not that. But if it's a lot worse, you might want to ask your vet.
 

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Second the idea of a behaviorist . I would also ask the vet about raising the Gabapentin. Can't imagine living with the screaming. Will be keeping one little prayer for you and and your poodle.
 

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I wonder if you could teach the "Quiet" command? I teach it by gently grasping the muzzle and holding the mouth closed while saying "Quiet!". This is useful when all 4 dogs are barking at a coyote, deer, or horse crossing our property!
 

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A behaviorist is an excellent idea. I don’t know if you’ve looked into this, but early dementia might also be a cause. When it starts, the behaviors are easy to miss but as time passes the become more obvious. It’s probably not the cause, but just in case.
 
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