Luna’s Life, a Dog and a Trainer… 5/14/207
OK as we talked last time training fearful dogs can be exciting, challenging and very rewarding but this week has brought on a new challenge. As we continue to improve and gain confidence with Ms. Luna, she is also now becoming a little “bratty” …
Now as she encounters a new person or scary situations, Luna instead of just avoiding or running to safety, she has begun growling and barking at people… Now this is not a “I want to eat you behavior” but it is a “I am scared please leave me alone” behavior. It has become even more important in the last couple weeks to keep her consistently out and around people but now I must be even more careful to keep her under threshold and not allow her to escalate the growling or barking to a nip or bite. All the while making sure I do not isolate Luna from people or scary things knowing that will only make her fear worse.
Let’s tackle the growly/ barky behavior… NEVER and I repeat NEVER correct or punish a growl or bark. It is the only warning a dog can give prior to a nip or a bark and if we teach a dog that warnings are not allowed they might well just live life by the motto of “bite first and ask questions later” This is the absolutely the last thing we want a fearful dog to learn!!
Let’s look at some possible solutions or workarounds for this behavior:
- How about doing a simple watch me on each growl and rewarding for eye contact?
- What about having strangers toss treats to the dog, instead of trying to walk up and pet the dog? Which only leads to more fear? Think about why I bought her the yellow “ask before petting” vest
- Starting small… For example, going to a city park that is full of people and walking 150 feet away from the people and throwing down a blanket. Then just reading a book while the dog gets use to or normalizing to people being around but at a distance where the dog feel safe.
- Going to an off-leash dog park and allowing Luna the space to move away from scary people on her own or choosing to get a little closer (this one I use with Luna but would recommend work with a professional trainer before tackling by your self)
- I also take Luna to my dog training classes and let her eat Kong’s and sit in a crate while she simply observes class
These things require only one thing, staying under threshold… Now it probably sounds like the growl and barking are over threshold and while they are, if Luna has the space to add distance between her and the scary things the bark and/or growl stops and she recovers… If she continued to bark or not be able to focus… We would stop immediately. Not to mention it has taken her 6-8 weeks just to be confident enough to even try these new behaviors.
We are on our way to really meeting the real Luna. Only time will tell who and what she will become but I know the best way to proceed is to give her space to learn and the patience to realize she can trust again….
New Stuff this week:
We added a new twist to the group class normalization… I left the doors open on the crates and gave her the choice to stay in or come out… In both classes that I teach, she was brave enough to come out for short durations and then retreat back when folk looked at her or talked to her. Keep in mind these folks have been witnessing Luna in their classes for over a month now, so there has been plenty of ground work.
There are even those folks in the class that when practicing loose leash walking will and have been tossing Luna treats in her open door and twice now she has come out to say hello to the dog and tolerate the human (for small durations) She even has taken treats while in her crate from 2 women and one man so far and this is just the first week of our “open door” policy.
We have also kept up the two days a week of doggy daycare and her once a week visit to the dog park with me (remember I would not recommend this with all dogs… Luna loves other dogs and is very attuned to dog body language)
So, the take away for this week is simple… don’t freak out when things plateau or progress slows. instead look for the wins and celebrate them. Remember fearful dogs learn on their timetables not ours. Even if you see behaviors that shock you or concern you, just advocate for your dog keep them comfortable (distance wise) and do not let things escalate (if they do, retreat to a greater distance) and allow the dog to rebound (that means following a command or taking food) if not add more distance???? And for goodness sakes if you don’t feel comfortable with how things are going CALL A DOG TRAINER FOR HELP BUT REMEMBER THIS PROCESS TAKES MORE TIME THAN ANYTHING ELSE….
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