People Too Close to Each Other. Connor Story Part One.

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.

Frantic when people too close to each otherFrom 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.

Their six weeks with me has now finished. Here is from the final feedback: ‘A few nights ago we both sat on the sofa and Connor jumped up to sit with us. He sat up against me and then put his front legs stretched out so he could touch Steve across me. He laid there for quite a while and then went to sleep on top of us. When Steve moved to get up, Connor didn’t make any fuss, he just wriggled back a bit to let him out and then got comfortable across my lap and went back to sleep. This is the first time he has done that. Big step forward.
Connor is happy to meet other dogs on his walk and does not seem to worry as much as before……
Every week there is an improvement with something and Connor is much less likely to appear stressed by anything. He is taking things in his stride much more than before. He is less likely to mouth in the way he used to when he would smack his lips together when he was nervous. He doesn’t do that much at all now……He is much happier now.
NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete report. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do more harm than good. Click here for help

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