They have to avoid people and dogs? Really?
I found Billie and Shaun the most polite, friendly and chilled dogs anyone could wish to meet.
There is a big difference between how the two dogs react to people and dogs passing their gate to how they behave when people are invited into the house. From the garden both will bark. Billie may charge wildly up and down the fence, barking.
Walks can be nightmare, so the couple simply avoid people and dogs when they go out.
The much bigger Billie, in particular, is variable. Some days she barely reacts at all and on others she’s nearly impossible to hold. They need her to be consistent.
They now have acquired a camper van and want to travel with their lovely dogs. At the moment it would be impossible.
To avoid people and dogs altogether will get them all nowhere. Forcing them too near, unprepared, is even worse.
Avoid people and dogs no longer. New strategies.
They have already come a long way since adopting the two dogs. Now it seems to have flat-lined and they need some new strategies to take things forward again.
As in most cases, it’s more than just attacking the problem itself head-on. There will be other contributory factors which my questions are designed to bring out.
Here there are three main areas to work on.
First is to make sure that both dogs are in the most stable state of mind possible as a ‘normal’ base level. There isn’t a lot to change in this respect.
Their relationship with food can change a bit however. Our work needs food and with meals already containing all the luxuries, what can they use? We discussed a change which will give them a highly nutritious staple diet whilst leaving the most tempting stuff for reinforcement – for associating with people and dogs.
The second area is working towards the dogs being less reactive to people and dogs near to their own territory. They will work on passing people and dogs – and to people and dogs the dogs can hear or see from their house or garden.
Finally, systematic desensitisation and counter-conditioning needs to take place away from home.
To avoid people and dogs altogether will get them nowhere, but to push them over-threshold could make things even worse.
Systematic work will start just outside the gate with one dog at a time, progressing to walking down the road.
Working sessions must be done one dog at a time. They will use the ‘engage-disengage’ game. This involves distance and – food.
Over time they will be able to encounter people and dogs more closely but in a controlled fashion.
Their ‘normal’ walks, consisting of going by car to somewhere they can avoid people and dogs altogether, can carry on as before.
From inside the camper van they do some ‘people-watching’, parking it in a carefully chosen location and working on the same principles. They can be ready to draw the curtain to block the view before people or dogs come too close.
They will continue to work in a systematic, incremental way, using this different approach to that they previously used which was simply to avoid people and dogs or to hang on tight if a dog or person suddenly appeared.
When progress has been made with the dogs individually, they can then work with them together.
This is a case of slowly slowly catchee monkey!