It was a total pleasure to be in the company of the two lovely Dobermans (or is it Dobermen?) – Doberman Pinschers.
Three-year-old Storm joined them six months ago. It’s hard to believe that he’s on home number four but he’s landed on his feet now.
His first year was spent as a ‘yard’ dog. From his behaviour in the house and with people, I would guess he hadn’t encountered the outside world in the first formative months of his life. That was the first imbalance in his life.
Outside their home is the problem.
They walk the two dogs together hoping that their other Dobie, Daisy, would give Storm confidence. They have had Daisy from a puppy.
To quote their first message to me, ‘We were told Storm was lead reactive. However he is getting worse the more we try to walk him. He barks and lunges at everything – dogs, cats and people’.
Consequently they seldom walk him now. That means Daisy is losing out also.
They have a small garden. Without the opportunity to sniff other smells and be part of a bigger, outside world, there is imbalance. Stimulation is mostly human generated or playing wildly with Daisy which gets out of hand when he is too excited. He has little freedom of choice or variety of input.
I explained how our work in changing his behaviour out on walks starts at home, not when they walk out of the front door. It will take time and patience.
They will need to walk the dogs separately so they can concentrate on Storm. This means they can now give Daisy the regular walks she needs.
There is an obvious imbalance in Storm’s life. Too much of some things and not enough of others.
There is too much human-generated excitement and arousal in general and too little in the way of calming activities and enrichment – including regular exercise.
Most of his activity involves exciting, hands-on type play with the man who sits on the floor and excites them. In a way this is lovely – they have a great relationship. However, it’s too stimulating.
The main outlet for his energy is playing with Daisy. He will do this as a way to unwind when he gets aroused. It may eventually get out of hand and they have to be broken up.
Although out of the house is where their problems start, home is first where they lay the firm foundations to build upon.
We discussed various areas in Storms life where they can help him to be less excitable. It’s a clear case of ‘trigger stacking‘. A recent walk, after they’d not taken him out for a couple of weeks, went surprisingly well. Feeling more confident, they took him out again a couple of days later. That went very badly. He reacted to everything. The build up of arousal, much of which due to imbalance, was to blame. Too much excitement, not balanced out with calming, enriching, unwinding activities.
The man’s play with with the dogs is lovely in a way. However, he’s agreed to avoid ‘too much’ because the fallout comes later, probably when they are out.
We explored activities that can act as an antidote.
One can imagine the sensory overload of general life outside house and garden for a dog without the right kind of exposure in the crucial first few months of his life.
Each time they take him out they are, in effect ‘flooding’ him. As he encounters one thing/dog/cat/person after another, the overload builds up. He can’t cope. He then erupts and it is hard to handle him.
Walk the dogs separately
For now the man will take Storm by himself. He will aim for two or three very short walks a day, about ten-minutes each.
Walks currently begin with Storm going wild with excitement on seeing his harness and lead. So, the first step is to work on a calm and controlled start. They will leave the walking equipment about, put his harness on, let him wear it around the house and take it off – and generally make it no big deal.
What will his walk now actually be?
It will be an exercise in addressing the imbalance.
It will start as a mooch within about 50 yards of home only. They won’t even get that far if they meet ‘encounters’. An encounter is anything Storm may see that he would react to – even seen at a comfortable distance.
They now have strategies for when they spot person, dog or cat. The idea is to always increase distance to where he is comfortable and then to make good things happen.
Bearing in mind trigger stacking, after three encounters even when successfully dealt with by the man as discussed – people, dogs or especially cats – they will come straight back home.
The man also will let Storm largely choose where they walk within reason. He will keep the lead loose and about 6 feet long. Storm can sniff. He can mark.
Gradually they will get further until the man can walk him to the nearby field. The lady can then walk Daisy there separately and the two dogs can meet up. On long lines they can have some freedom together.
Mooching and sniffing, along with games to hunt for their food, will help to counter the imbalance in Storm’s life. Activities like this are an antidote to arousal.
In a calm state of mind, Storm is much better equipped to deal with ‘encounters’.