The Hard Work Has Begun!
We’ve now completed three private sessions with Squirt and he’s been through two of the Advanced Meet & Greet classes along with about nine other dogs and their owners. While his behavior problems are not generally triggered in class, his owner is gaining skill and agility – honing the techniques she needs when the doorbell rings or the mail is being delivered. While Squirt’s reactivity is becoming less acute, it doesn’t take much to set him off or harken him back to the same level as when we started.
A novel person at the door, or having someone respond to him with less experience, will be all that reverts him back to his former level of intensity. At this point, it is imperative to train his owner and her parents so each one is able to achieve the level of skill and ability to respond to Squirt’s behaviors with equal effect. In each of our classes of Advanced Meet & Greet I will “take the reins” with each dog to briefly coach the owners on how to handle their dog’s reactivity to the greatest effect.
In Training Dogs, Timing is EVERYTHING!
Often, the problem the average dog owner has in treating reactivity in their companion dogs is timing, or lack thereof. Training dogs, especially reactive ones, is almost always completely dependent upon having the right timing of delivering the treat and/or praise or corrective feedback to the dog, and knowing when and how to extend the duration between seeing the behavior desired and delivering the treat.
I’m hoping the duration of Squirt’s non-reactivity is lengthening to give his owner a bit of a “cushion”. This is where the real behavior modification takes place. Ultimately, we want the dog to do more than simply tolerate the triggers causing the behaviors we are trying to change. What we want is for Squirt to respond entirely differently. In this case, we’d like him to look at the thing that has created the behavior in the past and, instead of reacting, look at his owner for rewards. The intent is to not only alleviate the prior behavior but to also help him “feel better” about the triggers. To view them as “predictors” of a “treats and praise”.
DON’T HUG ME, PLEASE!
Yesterday, we had Squirt’s fourth session and his owner invited her grandparents to come and help trigger Squirts behavior by knocking at the door and hugging her. If you remember from the last blog entry, Squirt does not tolerate anyone hugging his owner, who is a very active and social mid-20’s young adult. I saw this behavior for the first time yesterday and it was scary to see how quickly Squirt would escalate from totally fine to a snarling, barking and lunging fool.
First, we started with them each knocking on the door and entering. While he still reacted, we were able to quiet him and saw his reactivity decrease much more quickly than before. Then we commenced with the hugging. Over and over we had the owner’s grandparents take turns hugging her. It didn’t take long for the reactivity to diminish. Then, we spiced it up by pairing the hug with happy vocalizing. This took the reactivity back up again until he was able to habituate to the added excitement.
Overall, it was a great session and Squirt’s owner saw “light at the end of the tunnel”. What more could any trainer want than for her client to acknowledge improvement in her dog’s behavior – one she originally had no idea how to address.