Romanian rescue Violet has been with them since August. Her fearful reactivity to anything or anybody outside the house is increasing.
She was found with nine puppies. No doubt she believed that their survival had depended upon her chasing danger away.
What causes here fearful reactivity?
Nothing in the house upsets Violet – unless it’s someone coming in from outside.
She gets worked up whenever she hears sounds of people, dogs or traffic from outside.
As she watches people, dogs and cars go past the window she barks.
All this barking gets her into a heightened state of alarm and arousal – which result in…….more barking.
Enjoyable walks are impossible
Like many people they have spent the past few months trying to get her accustomed to all the things that scare her. This isn’t working. Her reactivity is getting worse.
Before leaving the front gate she is ready to react to anything she sees, with barking and lunging.
They want a peaceful happy walk with Violet and their other two dogs to the nearby beach.
Two main things are going on here which they need to change. One is the window-watching. The other is the ‘flooding’ – the forcing her to confront the things that overwhelm her.
Helping Violet’s fearful reactivity has to start at home.
Much of the day she may spend on guard duty at the window, barking ‘GO AWAY, GO AWAY!’ What happens? The danger does go away. This reinforces the barking. As it works so well to drive things away, shouldn’t it also work when she’s on lead outside the house?
Violet’s barking then starts one of their other dogs off – Roman, their other Romanian dog.
First solution is management – some window frosting on the lower part of the window.
Leaving the house
They now will follow the principals of desensitising and counter-conditioning. The first rule is to find a distance or level that she can cope with and start from there.
Then to pair the scary thing with something she likes.
In Violet’s case the gentleman, who is retiring and will now have time on his hands, will start in the garden.
The can walk around the garden with Violet on a loose lead. If a distant dog barks he can immediately drop her some food. If they hear a person or vehicle, he can do the same.
Gradually working their way out
The aim is to avoid reactivity if possible.
The man will open the garden gate, from where runs a short passage to the road. With Violet on a longish, loose lead he will continue the work he’s been dong in the garden. Now it will be when she sees something go past the end of the passage.
Before she can bark, pull and lunge, he can increase distance by going back into the garden. He can encourage and feed her.
Slowly, slowly he will work from here until he’s walking down the road. This will be when it’s quiet. He will be ready to cross the road or increase distance as necessary.
It can be a long, slow job
They say it’s taken a good year to get their other Romanian rescue settled in and happy on walks. They understand that is the likely kind of timescale.
For now Violet’s walks will be without the other two dogs. They may pop all in the car and drive to a secure field or the beach.
She gets exercise playing with Roman. They will increase her mental stimulation too.
NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ and is always written with permission of the client. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog it can do more harm than good. Click here for help