Everything came to a head the other day.
Reggie, the little volcano, exploded.
The house was full of visiting family – and someone brought a baby. The 14-month-old terrier, already stirred up, went mental.
The curious thing about this is that his reaction to the visiting baby was very similar to when he sees another dog while he’s restrained on lead (as he was with the baby).
Reggie looks a bit like a Patterdale. The lady looked up ‘Patterdale’ and saw the following. It may not be an accurate description of the breed in general, but it sums up little volcano Reggie perfectly: ‘…..(can’t) meet other dogs without intense emotion and excitement. So many (Patterdales) are misjudged as ‘aggressive and ready to attack anything’ when in fact they want to go over and meet.’
‘Intense emotion and excitement’ is Reggie to a T. When he can’t get to the thing he wants to investigate or to play with, he erupts.
The frantic state he got into with the visiting baby is part of a bigger picture. It was made worse against a background of already having been very aroused when the cousin’s baby arrived.
A new baby
A daughter is herself having a baby in a few weeks’ time.
Reggie’s excited, vocal and possibly anxious reaction to the baby is similar to his reaction to other dogs he sees and is on lead.
I’m sure much of the problem is that they were unable to give him freedom to investigate the baby like he’s not free to go to the dogs. He’s fine off-lead. Held back, scolded, controlled by anxious and exasperated humans caused the little volcano to explode.
The baby problem – and the ‘other dog’ problem – aren’t in isolation. There are other areas that are directly connected. Reggie becomes excited, distressed and vocal when: family members cuddle or are playful; when the man feeds or touches their chickens; when he’s near to young children; when someone lifts their cat.
The dog and baby situation is the most similar. How they themselves respond doesn’t work in the way they want it to when, like a volcano, Reggie erupts upon being unable to get to a dog. Therefore it stands to reason that the same kind of response wouldn’t work either when he was unable to get to the baby.
They only have a few weeks.
Each of the areas need to be broken down into small increments and treated like a ladder, one thing at a time. Desensitising and counter-conditioning. They should never push the little volcano over his threshold. Each encounter will be positive and associated with food. He’s very food motivated fortunately and can earn much of his meals in this way while they work on him.
They already have a crying doll but are going about it, to my mind, the wrong way. They expose him to the the crying doll, regardless of his agitation, hoping he will become immune over time.
Even if this eventually works, I’m pretty sure it won’t carry over to the real baby.
They will now introduce the crying doll gradually, a bit at a time. Here is a rough example of how, using food all the time:
- Silent doll on sofa. Don’t hold it. Put food around it.
- Silent doll – hold it.
- Silent doll – talk to it
- Crying sound only, no doll. Start quiet.
- Crying doll – muffled – in another room.
- Crying doll in same room.
Now go through the above with Reggie on lead (because he’s worse on lead, he needs to get used to that also).
- Add passing the doll around. Do everything calmly and quietly.
- Add smell of baby when it’s born.
Now get Reggie used to interacting with person holding baby doll from the other side of the baby gate.
- Take the quiet, then crying, doll to the gate. Person in kitchen with Reggie feeds him chicken as he looks at the crying baby doll. Person holding the doll can feed him.
So, when it’s the first encounter with the daughter’s baby they must make sure the environment is calm. The fewer people the better. Keep first session very short.
They can take baby to the gate, just as they did with the doll. Preferably sleeping baby.
In further sessions they can build up from there to a crying or wakeful baby and longer sessions.
When they are ready to let Reggie out on lead, they should do so on a loose, long line so there is no tension. He is a curious dog and build-up of frustration will be part of why the volcano erupts.
Applying the technique to other things
They should make some good progress now. Around dogs, chickens, the cat and cuddling they will exchange scolding for reinforcing the behaviour they want. They will take it slowly. They are dealing with the emotions driving Reggie’s behaviour and he is very likely conflicted – a mix of anxiety, excitement and playfulness.
Asking him to sit will only be realistic when intense emotion is no longer controlling him.
For now they should avoid altogether some simple daily things in Reggie’s presence that upset him. They will simply increase distance when seeing other dogs while letting him play when he’s off lead. They will shut him away when feeding the chickens. As humans’ playfulness upsets him, they should now mess about somewhere away from little volcano Reggie!