Reduce arousal. Stress and excitement are at the root of their problems with Kevin and being alert, energetic and reactive is simply part of his basic nature, I’m sure.
Kevin is Kevin – and he’s wonderful! As an adolescent he will be at a difficult stage anyway.
One-year-old Kevin was born in kennels in Romania then had probably been adopted by someone over here who couldn’t cope with his boisterous nature. He ended up in rescue kennels again.
They found him online. The kennels simply brought him out and handed him over.
Landed on his feet
He has landed on his feet coming to live with this lady and gentleman in their home which is a dog-heaven. They have about two acres of field that he can run around in and dig holes – he has a desperate need to dig as it helps him to reduce arousal.
Who knows just what breeds he’s a mix of? There is something of the Wolfhound about his face while the rest of him is more large terrier. He’s beautiful, if hard work.
We agreed that their problems have roots in one thing – excitement. His ‘stress bucket’ is permanently full. The individual issues like reactivity to other dogs, jumping all over people, mouthing and so on will be a lot easier to work on when he’s calmed down a bit.
To reduce arousal is where we start.
This will apply to all areas of his life.
Like with so many excitable dogs I go to, their initial priority will be teaching Kevin to self-calm and to reduce arousal.
The ultimate aim is for him to be less reactive to dogs when out. Is it excitement? Is it anxiety? Does he want to play? Is it a mix of emotions? He has never learnt appropriate dog manners and his brain is so full of excitement he loses control of himself. (As he does at home when someone calls to their house).
It was interesting to see how many areas of Kevin’s daily life can be slightly changed to reduce arousal. Just small tweaks in several areas will add up to making a big difference.
We sat at the table and he was fairly relentless with the jumping up at me. As his excitement rose, he added mouthing.
Teaching him to stop and think
They can teach him to calm himself, to stop and think. While I was there we used a clicker – clicking for any small moment of hanging back, or sitting, or lying down. He began to offer these behaviours for himself instead of jumping up.
I gave him things to chew – chewing and digging are two important ways in which he finds he can reduce arousal.
Eventually we had to put him in the kitchen so we could get on. He made no fuss. Further proof that it’s the presence of humans that push him over the edge. How humans behave therefore is crucial.
Kevin rushes and barks at dogs he sees on TV as well as out on walks. This can be turned to their advantage.
It gives them a good opportunity to rehearse the use of distance and the ‘Engage/Disengage’ they will use when out, but in a controlled way, in the house.
With Kevin shut out of the room, the lady will set up a dog programme on TV – freezing it on the image of a dog. She will pick up the remote, tasty treats, the clicker and go to Kevin. Putting him on lead, she will stand in the open doorway – well back from the TV.
From that distance with Kevin unable to charge at the TV, each time he looks at the dog, she will click and feed.
If he still reacts to the ‘frozen’ dog she will increase distance further by going out of the door and out of sight of the dog. Then enter again. It means experimenting, maybe to the extent of using the image of a different or even a smaller dog.
They will do this multiple times until, upon looking at the dog, he expects food to follow.
Then, when Kevin looks at the dog she will withhold the click. He should now look up at the lady. ‘Where is my food?’.
The lady will now click him for looking away from the dog on TV.
Building up gradually.
As Kevin becomes ready, she can gradually make it harder by either letting the TV dog move briefly or taking him closer to the TV. Upping the intensity will later add volume to a moving TV dog.
The end aim is for him to see a dog on TV and to look away instead of reacting.
This is the principal they will follow when out and encountering real dogs. Out in the real world it’s the first step to making more dog friends to play with (he has a couple already).
With their continued patience and sense of humour, Kevin will blossom and calm as he matures, I’m sure.