This is the final installment of the pieces I wrote for the paper so reader can see that trainers’ dogs are not perfect. And heck, stuff happens. I did not add too much to this one before posting here. Just remember that no blog or article is a replacement for working with a good trainer or behaviorist. If you need one, please check out The Pet Professional Guild.
You have read that dog trainers’ dogs are not perfect and implementing environmental management. This week is trying to return harmony. Since we have no crystal balls, we cannot tell you how long a situation will take to resolve – even when working with our own dogs. Duration of problem before addressing, severity of the problem, quality of the work done, others undermining the work, the individual dogs, etc, all play into the length of time a resolution takes – if it happens at all. I know the risks of “Seeing if they work it out” and delaying work. The longer you wait the harder it may become to resolve an issue. Dogs do not “grow out of” behaviors without work. If you let something go on for weeks, months or even years, getting a full resolution in a couple of weeks may not be a reasonable expectation.
After weeks (no, I stopped counting so no idea exactly how long this whole process took) of environmental management, we had begun to reintroduce Foster and Uhura to each other. Baby gates, leashes, crates, etc were all employed for safety and separation. Reintroducing Foster and Uhura was done at the dogs’ paces, not ours. If you push to far, rush and get frustrated and punish communication such as growling, you can make things worse. The whole time we worked to reintroduce the two dogs, we had to maintain management. One slip, one chance to escalate to a fight and all the work could be undone. The more setbacks and stress, the harder a resolution becomes. Even if Foster and Uhura had a few good days, we had to resist the urge to go faster. If one of the two was having an off day, we took a break and went into management only mode for a bit. When they were doing better, we began progressing again.
Finally, after several months of management and gradual reintroductions, we were able to see how they did outside, together, with strict observation. We had worked up to first reintroduction without barriers or leashes. We had identified and removed triggers and eliminated choke points where dogs would be forced into close quarters. Since my dogs have not fought over kibble, I first scattered kibble outside – covered the entire back yard with several handfuls. I brought out Foster, got him involved in kibble hunts and then brought out Uhura. Just a few seconds of good interactions (no visible stress behaviors and ignoring each other) and Foster came in. Repeat, repeat, and repeat over the next few weeks. The first time there was a grumble from Foster during a closer interaction, my heart went into my throat. Instead of escalating, Uhura stared for a moment and moved on. This response from her was highly reinforced. Over the weeks, we gradually increased the duration they were together. They were never unsupervised. I wanted to cry the day I saw Uhura try to engage Foster in play and he responded positively – albeit cautiously. I began to relax more the day all four dog engaged in play, Uhura stumbled over Foster, he shook it off and went right back to playing. Now they are patrolling the yard together and I hope they keep progressing as they are.
Are things perfect? No. There are still things we have to manage. That is just life with dogs. It is nice though to have things almost back to normal.
Karen Peak owns West Wind Dog Training and The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project in Prince William County.