Saturday, November 26, 2011

Slinky's Separating Sojourn: Day 16 of Slinky with Misha May: Eliminating on Leash. Owner Mind versus Trainer Mind. Chained Dogs and Chewed Leashes.

Today was the day of our fund raiser A Moment for Mutts from 10am to 3pm. This was going to be a long day for those of us setting up and cleaning up. I left home about 8:30am and returned by 5:00pm. Slinky accompanied me for the day’s fun.

Because I had so many duties to attend to, others took turns helping with Slinky. Pauline, one of the Understanding Dogs Dog Trainer / Behaviorist Apprentices was the person Slinky spent most of her time with. She whined at first as I moved around the room away from her, but quickly habituated. Each time I left her side, I help up my right index finger and said ‘wait or ‘wait for me’ in a jolly voice. Each time I returned, I said, ‘thanks for waiting!’

We cautioned everyone to ignore any whining so that she would not be rewarded for that. Everyone was encouraged to give her attention when she was calm and quiet. People are initially surprised that we don’t want to comfort her while she is whining, but soon understand that this would increase the likelihood of that behavior. That may not be so serious in an average dog, but in a dog with separation anxiety, we want to extinguish any behaviors that are related to or may trigger her anxiety.

Slinky had fun and was very well behaved. She did not, however, true to form, eliminate on leash. We gave her ample opportunities but she held it until she got back to my house. This tells us something about her past history which is that she was probably not walked regularly if at all. That’s not necessarily a negative thing if the dog has a great yard and someone to interact with in it. But it does present a problem for a dog that needs to be on leash for a prolonged period. I think I remember Gina telling me that Slinky urinated one time on leash.

Another reason a dog may not eliminate on leash is if she associates doing so with a negative experience like being reprimanded or frightened. One way to counteract this would be to give her ample opportunity to do so and then be extremely excited praising her and giving her a treat. We want her to choose to go on leash, therefore we reward that behavior consistently. One could also practice using a long leash in the backyard and if she goes, be sure she sees the leash as you run toward her praising and treating.

Slinky’s only barking occurred when the Mile High Musical Tails Canine Freestyle performers began to arrive – 2 Poodles, 2 Golden Retrievers and a Doberman. She excused herself to the lobby during those performances and sat at the registration table. She just could not handle all of those dogs dancing and most likely they were grateful that she permitted them to concentrate. Slinky did not mind the belly dancers at all – I think she enjoyed them!

Discussing the concept of ignoring whining when a dog is anxious, inspires me to also discuss what I like to call Trainer versus Owner Mind. This difference is not a judgment of good or bad but more a decision of when to operate from each. I see the owner mind as more emotional and the trainer mind as more rational. Owner mind helps us love our guys and meet their needs. Trainer mind helps us teach them what they need to know.

While owner mind wants to cheat a little with extra treats and breaking training rules like letting them jump up, trainer mind sets goals and meets them. Owner mind reacts when their dog reacts. The owner feels overwhelmed by their leashed dog reacting to other dogs, while trainer mind is prepared to handle whatever arises. While in owner mind, we may feel uncertain of what our dog might do or how he may react, as a trainer, we are observing and tracking his responses to his environment for the sole reason of formulating our next steps.

It can be appropriate to be in either state. But if trainer mind is indicated for certain results, it is usually best to follow that inclination. For example, in a dog park setting, one might like to be the relaxed owner, but clearly someone in trainer mode must be present to oversee the activities. Or if your dog is meeting a new dog it is best to be confident and at ease but observant. And what if you are at a big event with many leashed dogs? It’s best to feel prepared no matter what you might encounter. Trainer mind says we can do this, my dog and I.

People mistakenly assume that taking a dog with separation anxiety to dog daycare will assuage their anxiety. It’s sometimes better than leaving him at home, perhaps to self-destruct, but unless the daycare has the specific protocol in place, and none do to my knowledge, the dog will continue to experience the anxiety without treatment or resolution. Imagine day after day in a state of panic and worry. This is terribly stressful and sets the dog up for many stress related conditions. Healing this condition is the best option.

Daycare providers report that these dogs tend to stand near the gate or door and wait anxiously for their owners. Other dogs and people do not satisfy their specific need. They are bonded to one person and only that person will do. On the other hand, dogs who are nervous but social and otherwise well adjusted, can definitely benefit from a well run daycare. They are able to play and engage in enjoyable interactions.

Buddy, the 100 pound German Shepherd with separation anxiety, came to me as a foster after having been returned to a shelter three times and was slated for euthanasia. I had other fosters at the time and was having great difficulty accomplishing even the simplest task because Buddy could not be left alone without screaming destruction. Some of the foster dogs were being treated for heartworm which meant they had to be crated and leash walked with no excitement. Other foster dogs needed to be only dogs. Friends came to help but it wasn’t enough. The only relief I had aside from friends helping was that Buddy could wait patiently in my car alone.

Judy, owner of Doggie Pause Dog Daycare, invited Buddy to spend the days there so that I could attend to other tasks. After all of the other dogs were taken care of, I would sleep in my clothes with Buddy downstairs. We awoke early and went straight to the daycare where he spent each day waiting by, or jumping, the lobby gate. We even tried having me come at varying times so that he might stop looking for cues but it made no difference. Finally Judy realized he was having a negative effect on the other dogs, teaching them bad habits, so he couldn’t go anymore.

Eventually, Buddy would no longer get in the car because he figured out that I was most certainly going to leave him there for some period of time. This happened for the first time when we were headed to the daycare. I realized I would have to take him there by foot because I couldn’t make this giant get in the car. Luckily, it was just a few blocks away. That was when I began sleeping in my clothes so that I could get him there early each morning and return before the other dogs needed to go out.

I remember the very first day I took Buddy to the daycare, parking nearby and opening his door. I grabbed the leash securely because after all he is a 100 pound dog. He jumped out and started in the opposite direction from the daycare. I held onto the leash to guide him and it was then that I realized he had chewed through the leash so that only a few inches remained attached to his collar. I was holding a nice long leash that had nothing to do with Buddy.

I grabbed the tiny leash quickly and realized that I had absolutely no leverage. I tried to steer his 100 pounds back into the car to give me some time to think or to find new leash prospects, but Buddy was in charge. He proceeded to lead me through the streets of Englewood. I hung on hoping for any solution but none manifested. This went on for quite some time, with me attempting to hang onto his little leash and his collar. I was off balance and feeling so scared I would lose him.

I knew he would escape without so much as a look back over his shoulder because he already had accomplished that the first day he was with me. He jumped my fence with me standing right next to him. I was absolutely shocked because I had naively assumed that he had been bored and alone in his previous fence jumping scenarios. But I learned that he jumped because he could and because he liked it. He took off that first day and I’m not sure why he even came back. I tried everything I knew to lure him to me. I called him. I ran after him, and I ran away from him. I said words like ‘come’ and ‘treat’ and ‘honey boy’. I performed play bows. Finally, when I ran out of ideas and stood still in failure, he sauntered over. I was so relieved that he also let me grab his collar. So I knew that if he took off right now, he would only come back when he was ready and that meant running in traffic.

One of the reasons he had been returned to the shelter three times was because he insisted on jumping every fence. Sometimes he chased livestock, and sometimes he chased cats. He was never finally cured until two things happened. The first thing that happened couldn’t have been better if I had planned it. Formerly, when he had jumped his owners’ fences he had been free. He had run and chased and celebrated. That had even happened in my previous home once. But in my new house, when he jumped the fence, he landed in the neighbor’s yard. Being trapped was his least favorite thing, and he had just created it. This jumping held no reward. When I went around to retrieve him, he was cowering and growling a little, like he was worried. My Big Buddy worried? Hurray! He was so happy to see me and never went over that fence again.

Then I discovered words that had meaning for him which could interrupt his run for the fence and redirect his attention to me. The word ‘come’ had no relevance for him. My hypothesis is that it was most likely used without the actual teaching of what it signifies and it became irrelevant. One day he showed me what I needed to know. As he was headed in the direction of the fence, I taunted ‘Are you with me Bud?’ and he turned on a dime coming right over to me. He continued to respond to those words 100% reliably!

Between waiting in my car, practicing the separation anxiety protocols, volunteer help and playing with other dogs, we made it through. He tolerated the crate and seemed calm and happy. He took the daily medication chlomicalm for quite some time. He never did destroy anything in my home, although he ate the seat belts in the car. I felt exceedingly lucky, though, because it had been reported that he had previously destroyed portions of two homes and dragged a refrigerator across a kitchen floor.

I began to wonder when Buddy would be calm enough to leave uncrated. I was just pondering trying this for a short period of time when I got my answer quite unexpectedly. I returned home to find Buddy grinning from ear to ear at the front door with the other dogs. I must not have closed the crate securely and he managed to escape to come greet me. He was so proud and nothing was so much as out of place. I never crated him again. He began to blossom and thrive, becoming the handsome, confident, well-adjusted male he is today.

Buddy will still whine today. He doesn’t like small spaces either. I could never leave him at the vet or the groomer. But he now has a new home and the transition went very smoothly. He is who he is, but without separation anxiety.

I’m aware that chewing one’s leash is a sign of general anxiety as we see plenty of dogs just out of a shelter or challenging situation who do so. But is it a specific behavior of dogs with separation anxiety? I’m not certain but so many dogs who suffer with it, destroy their leash the second they are left unattended. We finally ended up using a chain leash (not a choke or chain collar) with Kabul because he was so destructive and so sneaky and so fast. Slinky has also chewed up a leash or two as well. I can’t help wonder if being tied somewhere not only helped bring on separation anxiety but also a hatred for leashes and confinement.

Often people will ask if having a companion dog will relieve the symptoms of separation anxiety. In my experience, a dog does not replace the human with whom they have pathologically bonded. Another dog will be a friend and companion later on, but will not help resolve the situation initially.

Dogs can be excellent role models, though, for enjoying a crate, hanging out calmly and self entertaining without humans around. I have observed Slinky learning from my dogs as well as enjoying their company. If Slinky’s family wanted another dog, I think she would be very happy. She has loved all of the dogs she has met while with me. They all seem to like her too.

I believe that dogs with separation anxiety do reach a point when another dog is helpful as a companion to stave off boredom and loneliness. But they also can learn to cope with being the only dog in a home as long as the family doesn’t spend more than the average work or school day away. Dogs are extremely social creatures and we are all they have. If there isn’t another dog in the household then the dog needs us even more. Their whole lives are about waiting for us. We shouldn’t take advantage of them and force them to wait alone too much.

Dogs do best when they are included in the family adventures as much as possible. It’s rewarding for them to spend time with us. They are often best behaved when they feel valued. Dogs who are left outside will adapt but it is not the optimum situation. As a matter of fact, the dog most likely to bite is a dog on a chain. He feels trapped and vulnerable, often teased by kids or threatened by other animals or people. He may feel desperate about defending the only thing that is his, that small circle of dirt. A dog on a chain never appears happy. And since joy is a dog’s natural state, being on a chain is against nature.

No comments:

Post a Comment