The Clock – Dog Training Session Fear Cycles


I heard the car door slam and immediately looked at the clock. The dogs were surprisingly quiet, sleeping deeply on their cushioned beds after their frigid morning run and only burst into attention when the doorbell rang. I told them to go to their ‘place’ and they headed down the stairway and into the bedroom, I followed them and closed the bedroom door and then I went to greet my Saturday morning clients; Ellen and Zoe.

She was early, dressed for the cold with a serious hat, well insulated gloves, snow pants and 30-below boots, Zoe was still in the SUV. We greeted each other and Ellen asked if we were training outside or in. I had just been out there, her dog, Zoe, was a single thin-coated seven month old, so I voted for in. She agreed, but kept most of her gear on, the drive over must have been a chilly one. She looked upset and went on to tell me that their old dog was at the point of no return and being put down this morning. This news had been a long time coming, the vet had projected a faster failure due to heart disease, but now it was actually an old injury that seemed to have failed and made it so the dog could no longer stand or get up at all. So time had run out for the 13-year old senior and working with the new lively devil was life affirming and bittersweet. I didn’t know the old dog so all I could do was say ‘I’m so sorry’ and not think about it too much, as I’ve had many beloved old dogs over the years and their life clocks are way too short.

I had recently had Zoe as a board and train guest so I knew a lot more about her than just observing while Ellen worked with her. Zoe seemed to be going through a strong fear cycle, barking at flags and window reflections and various other non-amazing things. I had shared the concept of fear periods (a strong one during the pup’s second month of life that can seemingly have permanent fear ramifications) and this one, that wasn’t always so obvious, around the time they were getting all their adult teeth grown in that can be as silly as barking at the bathroom toilet as if they had never noticed it before. I suggested friendly laughter and a that’s OK pat to show her all was right with the world. Ellen said she was just ignoring some of it, I agreed.

We moved on to do short timed sessions on various pieces of training that I thought would be most helpful. Since Zoe was initially scatter-brained we went into the guest bedroom (which I often use for dog training – so it has a large crate, toys in the bureau, treat bowls, extra clickers), closed the door and played off-leash round-robin recall, then some crate games and Zoe became focused. So now it was time to leave the small-ish area and practice walking on a loose leash in the living room. She barked fairly persistently at the large south-facing window for no clear reason and Ellen was having trouble resolving the pattern (they’d do a circle, Zoe would bark, bark, bark, on and again). I asked for her leash and distracted her with doing other things she knew for much faster and abundant food reward. I also jollied her a bit and so she decided the barking wasn’t needed. Ellen took her back and tried again with a slightly adjusted strategy, yes, it worked for both.

I looked at the clock.clock2013

(Note: all names changed. This post was written in response to DP Challenge:The Clock and required the first sentence somewhere in post )

Have you had a dog who decided everything was scary and needed to be barked at or run from? Did you help them get over it or did you get irritated and think they were a coward even though they were supposed to be your guardian? Did you know about fear periods and the importance of avoiding trauma in that second month of their life?

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