This page is dedicated to the rehabilitation of my girl Kenzie, and learning as much as possible through the journey.
Kenzie's Journey: Working through extreme reactivity to other dogs
What Method to use?
To get a dog from reacting very strongly to a stimulus, no matter what it is, it takes time and patience. You cannot push the dog, or punish the dog, to
"get over it".
Lets see if we can see it from the dog's point of view: If you had a severe fear big, black rats. Every time you saw one, even if it was all the way on the other side of the room, you would scream, your heart would start racing, and you would run out of the room. Now, lets say that your spouse decided that it was time for you to get over this fear of rats, and so he was going to get you around them so much that you would just have to "get over it", and shout at you at the top of his lungs if you screamed or ran from the room. So he decided to put a rat in your bed every morning when you woke up. Well, you can probably imagine that you would not only not get better, but you would most likely get worse.
Now can you imagine if every time you went outside of your house, he had random people walk up to you to put a rat on your head? You would freak out! No matter where you went, you would be looking around, trying to figure out who had a rat and how you would get away from them. So now not only do you have an even more severe fear of rats, you also have a nervous complex, because of a damaging method a loved one used to try to help you. Unfortunately, this method is all too common in the dog training world. It is called flooding, and the idea is to get the dog around what it is reacting to so much that it has no choice but to "get over it". It is inhumane, and not only that, but you can end up causing much worse psychological damage than you had before you started this kind of training. This is NOT the industry standard for treating reactive dogs, and anyone who is instructed to use this type of training for anything should be very very careful, and I strongly suggest you get a second opinion from a trainer not associated with the first.
Now, back to our story.
Thankfully, your spouse hears about desensitization, and counter conditioning, and decides to try it. So he gets a cage and puts a very small baby rat in it, then he puts it outside, about 10ft from your window. Then he puts a bag of your favorite chocolate in the window sill with a letter that says "every time you look at this baby rat, please eat a piece of chocolate. When you walk away, please leave the bag here. I will refill it if it ever gets empty. Oh, and they have no calories". You can bet that I would be over there looking at that rat! So now you feel safe, and you have a choice whether or not to go look at it. You have not gotten to that place where your heart is beating and you are scared, so you can actually think about what you want to do (this is called being sub-threshold). You are able to get away from it, and you can give yourself more space if you need to.
Your spouse also gives a baby rat to your best friend, and asks that any time she comes over, she bring the baby rat with her, in a cage. Now something great (your best friend) is paired with the feared item (the rat), but the feared item is being controlled to keep you from reacting (using a baby rat and keeping it in a cage). Pretty soon you would get used to the baby rat, the fact that your friend always brings it would not be a big deal, and you would probably even start talking to it through the glass.
All of this time, your spouse has been very careful to make sure that no big black rats come into the house. This gives you a chance to slowly work up to something more similar to the actual trigger event (big black rat who is free in your house). The husband now goes to the store and buys a domesticated gray and white large rat to keep as a pet. He will take care of it, but it will be in the house. Since it is domesticated and really sweet, and you have already gotten on talking terms with the black baby mouse, you come around pretty quickly and soon the rat is actually your pet.
The next time you see a big black rat across the room, you say "oh my gosh! Look at that rat! Ralph, please put him back outside, but don't hurt him!" in a very calm and collected tone. How did you get here? You had looked at rats with no feelings of fear/anxiety for a months, so when you saw a new one, you did not overreact. You have changed your emotional response to the sight of a rat. This is called working sub-threshold, and it is how we are going to help our dogs be okay about being around other dogs.
To get the dog to relax in the crate, near another dog.
- With the dog in the crate, which has a blanket draped over the side so that the dog is not visible, drop some treats through the top and see if the dog will eat them. If not, than you have gone too fast, and your dog is not ready for this step. Go back to the step "To get her to be able to be around strange dogs and work (think)". That step works the dog up to being able to take food while near another dog. If you have done the Relaxation Protocol with your dog in and out of his crate, than you should have no problem getting your dog to eat food while in the crate, near the other dog.
- Once your dog is eating the treats, begin to do your usual Relaxation Protocol work, taking a step back, stepping in, treat. Two steps back, return, treat. Three steps back, return, treat. Four steps back, sit in your chair, stand back up, return, treat. Go Back to your chair, sit down, pause for 3 seconds, return, treat. Go back to your chair for 10 seconds, return, treat, etc. Watch closely for your dog to begin to relax. The goal is for your dog to get board, and decide to start chewing on the bone/kong/bully stick between treats from you.
- If while your dog is in the crate a dog barks, treat thiis just as you would if you heard a dog bark on the TV, just briskly walk over to your dog right away and jackpot him with lots of yummy yummy treats. Hopefully by this point you have done enough preliminary work that your dog will see this as the same exercise at home and not react.