Connor’s will be a story in two parts. This first story is about Connor and his frantic agitation when two people get too close to each other.
He came to them a year ago, probably only weeks away from death. The dog, scarred with broken teeth, scared and skinny, had stopped eating. He had been in the kennels for two years and seemed to have lost the will to live.
From the moment the couple took him in, the Staffie Greyhound mix, now five, surrounded by patient love began to blossom.
Too close to each other or hugging.
From the start Connor became agitated when either the man moved too close to the lady, or when the lady approached the man. As soon as they get at all near, Connor first tries to split them by pushing between them. He becomes increasingly agitated and frantic. He jumps up at them and mouths them. If they don’t then move apart, he pants and rushes about, drinking lots of water.
He finishes by grabbing and killing a soft toy.
A systematic plan
The case is unusual in that it makes no difference as to who approaches who. They don’t have to be actually touching for Connor to stress. It’s the same if other people get too close to each other so it doesn’t look like protectiveness being the reason. I wonder what terrible thing the dog must have suffered or witnessed humans doing in his earlier life.
To gradually get Connor happy with humans touching or hugging and not going into in a frantic panic, we are creating a plan. It involves ‘systematic desensitisation’. The man and woman will get closer to one another slowly and gradually, always keeping within his comfort threshold distance-wise so he never again becomes agitated and frantic by their getting too close. Then they add ‘counter-conditioning‘. Their proximity at this acceptable distance will deliver good stuff – special food dropped to him. The aim is to change Connor’s conditioned emotional response.
They can start at a distance by merely giving one another eye contact and attention without being too close. Over probably a period of weeks, bit by bit the two can shuffle a bit closer, then one reach out to the other and so on – until eventually they are able to hug without Connor stressing. All the time food will fall around Connor.
We can add movement with the two walking towards each other. Maybe a predictable ‘pattern’ will help, like counting “1 2 3” before dropping the food which may help Connor to focus and calm. We have several more ideas and it’s a matter of experimentation to start with.
The next story – Connor has attacked the man
When something has happened once it’s more likely to happen again, given similar circumstances.