I walked in the door to be met with frantic barking.
Brave Luna, with frantic barking, came right up to me. Her sister backed her up but with less enthusiasm.
Luna and Bear are same-sex siblings. They are two-year-old Cavapoo Collies. What a mix! They were a bit smaller than I expected.
Walks are a nightmare due to the dogs’ reactivity to everything, their frantic barking and pulling. Consequently, the family don’t walk them regularly.
Their frantic barking at every sound when at home is annoying the neighbours. The lady has tried all sorts of things to stop the barking, some not pleasant for the dogs. None worked.
Addressing the root of the problem is the only way to get lasting improvement.
Clever dogs need variety, exercise and enrichment but their behaviour makes taking them out impossible. The family can’t walk them separately as the two little dogs won’t be separated.
Luna is the most stressed of the two and she is the more bossy one. This is often the way. One will overshadow the other. Bear, however, is more relaxed and without Luna may well have adjusted better to life.
Lack of exposure in crucial early weeks
Three main points have been working against the family.
The first is that the dogs, in the vital first twelve weeks of their lives, didn’t get the required socialisation and habituation to daily life all dogs need. Early socialisation and habituation.
They picked the puppies up at sixteen weeks old.
They were not prepared for meeting people, other dogs, bikes, sounds, vacuum cleaner…..all sorts of things. The real world is a scary nightmare.
The second point is that they are littermates which brings its own challenges.
The third is probably genetics. They tell me that the dogs’ brother is even more scared and reactive than Luna.
I didn’t list these things to discourage them, but so that they are realistic about what they are up against. It’s also important that they don’t in any way blame themselves.
Just one of these three things they can actually do something about. That is what people call socialisation but which is really systematic desensitisation, habituation and counter-conditioning.
For their dogs to react differently, they need to work on their fear and stress levels.
Every time they take them out, every time they take them in the car where they simply shake with fear, the dogs are ‘flooded’. Flooding does them no good at all. Everything is too much.
Stress, fear, excitement/over-arousal is at the root of their behaviour. They haven’t been properly prepared at a sufficiently young age for the real world. Too many things both at home and out stress Luna in particular.
Living in a war zone
Just imagine being terrified every time you go out. It would be like living in a war zone.
Stress needs reducing in every way possible. Each time the dogs are alarmed and react with frantic barking, their stress levels go through the roof. With exploding stress levels, they bark and react even more. It’s Catch-22.
Stress reduction underpins everything we will do. The family will work on calming the dogs constantly and in every way possible.
So, against a calmer background, we need a plan of baby steps. We need to break things down into the tiniest of increments to desensitise and counter-condition the dogs to one thing at a time.
One dog at a time
Progress will be impossible with both dogs together. They will simply keep bouncing off one another rather than relating to their humans.
So, the first challenge here is to get them to accept being apart for just a minute or two to start with. Baby steps.
The family will start with a barrier or gate across the room so the dogs, whilst together, are separated. They can give each dog something to chew so it’s a positive experience. Bit by bit they can extend the time.
Then they can take one dog out of sight of the other.
The dogs must be comfortable with one step before going on to the next.
Eventually one dog can be on a long and loose lead by the open front door. Now the frantic barking at sounds and sights of the outside world, of passing people and so on, need working on.
Just being at the open front door is too much
How can the dog go for a happy walk when even being at the open front door is too much?
It’s impossible to say what progress they will make or how fast. Frequent short sessions in tiny increments will be a lot better than one long session.
Walks can currently only do more harm than good to the dogs. They are a nightmare for all due to the frantic barking at everything and the pulling.
Ultimate success depends solely upon the patience and commitment of the owners for however long it takes.