Freya V. Locke - Dog Behaviourist | Author | Blogger. Issue 5 2024
An easy way to help your dog deal with triggers. No struggling required.
This week I have been a busy bee with lots of catching up with clients after my week away.
Twyla is feeling much better after her poorly tail episode last time. Instead, our cat, Catticus, had a scraped leg instead, and now is on painkillers and antibiotics. I swear it never ends!
Ai Cock-up of the week
Fun Not Fear® Journal
How To Empower Your Dog with People-Watching from Your Car Boot.
Help your dog with their fears and triggers with this easy technique.
Imagine this scenario: your dog is at the park. They are having a wonderful time, playing ball, exploring sniffs, doing dog stuff.
An off lead spaniel appears.
(Or any other trigger, but let's go with dogs for this article)
Does your dog?
A) Look up, look back to what they were doing and have a lovely rest of the day
B) Run off after the other dog, with you yelling their name to no avail
C) Completely lose their shit and bark, lunge, growl and even fight the other dog. You then also lose your shit, hurt your shoulder while trying to rein your dog in, and go home in floods of tears, defeated and miserable.
If the answer is "A" then well done to you and your dog. You have passed. You need to read no further.
If the answer is "B" then put your dog on a lead. Problem solved. Oh, call a trainer about getting some advice on learning recall, and carry on reading.
If the answer is "C" then we have a problem. It's not safe for your dog to be off leash near other dogs. They may be struggling with their negative reactions. They will be a danger to themselves or to others.
It's hard when the answer is "C" because you know that deep down, your dog is the sweetest dog there is. They enjoy cuddles on the sofa, have their favourite toy and give the best kisses,and answer to “smoochums”. Until they spot another dog and go to pieces.
But we can help with this. We need to change how they feel about other dogs in the kindest and calmest possible ways. Call a behaviourist and keep reading.
Distance is your best friend.
Dogs that have triggers view the world as a scary place. The key to helping them is to control their exposure to triggers. Then, pair those triggers with neutral or pleasant experiences. The dog sees, hears, and smells the trigger at a rate they can handle. Nothing bad happens. Then, something nice happens too. In this way, the trigger will gradually get less scary. The dog will build up a bank of pleasant experiences with the trigger. This will eventually change their view of it.
If a dog is coping well, then keep plenty of space around well behaved dogs (preferably on-lead) in a park, or similar place. This will be enough to let our dogs feel braver while you teach them. But achieving this distance or reliability from other dogs isn't always possible.
Here, utilising a car boot is a wonderful thing. Park somewhere your dog can see triggers in the distance outside their window. Have a good supply of treats and water.
Here's how it helps:
A Safe Viewing Spot: Your boot is secure, meaning nothing bad will happen to your dog or other dogs. As well as being physically safe, it might make them feel safer, reducing stress and anxiety in this small extension of home. This can ramp up your results by lots.
Controlled Environment: You are in control. You do not have to deal with other dogs and owners. You can easily close windows and the boot door. You can even drive away. You can do all this without having to wrestle your dog away from other dogs. You can find better spots to park, or even have a nice cup of coffee and read a book if your dog is doing ok.
Positive Associations: Pair the experience with their favourite treats or toys. If every time I saw a clown in the distance, somebody gave me £100, I would learn to tolerate them pretty quickly. There is a preferred order to this. Trigger, then treat. Trigger, then treat. Trigger, then treat. We want the trigger to mean a treat is coming. Not a treat to mean a trigger is coming. See the difference?
How to make it a successful experience.
Choose Your Spot Wisely: You want to see triggers, but not so many that they become overwhelming. They must be far enough away for your dog to think straight. Dogs can't learn in a state of panic. Car parks by pet shops and parks are awesome for this.
Make It Nice: Bring blankets from home and a comfy bed. Favourite teddies. Relaxing music. Spray Pet Remedy if you use it at home. You want your dog to be as comfortable as can be.
Bring the Treats: The best stuff. The sausages. The Chicken. The peanut butter. The cheese. None of your crappy take-it-or-leave-it kibble. We want your dog to think all their birthdays have come at once.
Chill Out: Your dog knows if you are stressing out. Remember - a dog can smell your hormones, and they sure as shit know if you are worried about something. If you're calm and enjoying the moment, it's more likely they'll mirror your mood.
Chat: Talk to your dog about the stuff going on outside the window. They don’t know all the words you use. But they will know your tone and pick out a few things you say. Calmness and being optimistic will translate to a calmer and more optimistic dog.
Know When to Call It a Day: Keep these sessions short. Regular, short successes are best. They work far better than long, drawn-out torture. End on a positive note, before your dog shows signs of stress or fatigue. If things go wrong, move somewhere quieter and less stressful. Let your dog calm down before you go home. Avoid leaving your dog with a lasting negative impression. We want them to process happy thoughts!
Building confidence gradually.
Remember, overcoming fear is a journey, not a race. Each dog will progress at their own pace, and that's perfectly okay. The goal of these people-watching sessions is to desensitise your dog. You do this by building their confidence one step at a time.
By starting in a familiar space, teaching your dog doesn't have to be a challenge. Instead, it can be another part of a relaxing, enjoyable day out with you.
Spotted and sharing.
My other posts - because I write about other stuff too!
Hope you all have a fantastic week and I will see you next time!
Warm n Fuzzies,