Friday, July 19, 2013

Child Psychologist Observations To Better Train & Understand Dogs

In reading your descriptions I am most struck by the fact that Fido's behaviors are not at all unpredictable, in fact from all we know about animal behavior, they are quite predictable and expected reactions to stressors.

His stress reactions are controlled in fact and intended to stop the stressor not aggressively reactive: i.e. your son clattering down the stairs ( loud unexpected noise coming from an unknown place; putting on a coat and hat, are novel stressors to most dogs handled through de-sensitization by associating  them in training with cookies)

The global term aggression doesn't fit Fido  at all to describe his relationships with other dogs or people. He is dog reactive under specific circumstances and leash reactive . The responses are pnly in specific situations. What is needed is change in people's management of that behavior in those situations then the dog will respond to the new rules. In the times you tried it it worked ( novel house visitors) 

History Historically ( and this is based upon my experience as a psychologist working with children using behavior modification) it is an enormous mistake to (a) take an uncertain anxious dog to dog park where all sorts of dogs with different levels of socialization and behavior skills are running around in unstructured unruly packs;

(b) continue going to the park to make it "better", an activity that absolutely guarantees that that will make it worse. What one does is de-sensitization in a calm setting with one dog. Desensitization means a dog is rewarded for staying calm as a new dog approaches closer and closer  in a structured way and each time one stops as the comfort point is reached. There are some great "how to" books on that ( Patricia McConnell: Feisty Fido)
 as well as trainers who directly help.,

Behaviors Being protective of dogs that come in range of you on walks is behavior often triggered by one's ownr behavior for example  a tight leash and the walker tensing then interpreted by a dog  as your anxiety and the need to protect you. He is just doing his job.

One behaviorist with her own Golden (who now gets along with all dogs because she learned the triggers) taught her dog to relax  when the leash was tense..  Click to Calm by Emma Parsons is a step by step guide to managing dogs that are leash reactive etc until they are not. It is literally a recipe book that Emma designed when she needed new management tools for her dog now CDC champion.

He is uncertain around other dogs. De-sensitization helps with that but not repeated introductions without de-sensitization to stressors at the kennel or anywhere else. That has a predictable negative effect and reaction. If I  am afraid of snakes repeatedly introducing me to snakes isn;t going to change that. It will make it worse,and predictably so

When you got Princess how did you introduce them?

When you say they embolden each other, pairs of dogs very often work as a team. Ours do. Everyone 's does. Dogs work as pack members. If you watch, they all run together to bark at a stranger at a gate. Dogs just do that. It is part of pack mentality..

People: His reactions are also predictable.When he associates them with good things he is social, appropriate and receptive. But he will bark at uncertain or novel stressors.  Many dogs do bark at stressors such as  novel or strange sounds, someone suddenly coming behind him clattering down stairs; novel  things not encountered before, that can't be predicted or seem strange ( hats: common).

 A stranger staring at a dog and reaching out his hand  to him is a threatening behavior. It is widely described in dog behavior training books as perceived as a threat by most dogs. That is an inappropriate introduction not an inappropriate dog.

With appropriate introductions and training he behaves very appropriately with people in fact is  far ahead in his  skills than most. That speaks to his trainability and intelligence.  

Because many dogs are startled by someone coming up unexpectedly from behind or on the side. I have had to train myself to remain "on alert" on walks because people are "unpredictable" and to deal with their unpredictability  I move away when I see them coming because I have dogs like that too. But it isn't unusual behavior and is manageable.

Dogs, especially  herding dogs, chase bicyclists because they are herding and chase is triggered by the bicycle. In his case the nip was corrective and minor. It was controlled.

Summary : Neither of these two incidents are inherent to Fido or Fido's fault, are understandable and are easily resolved and corrected. The tragedy if there is one  is that Fido is the focus and victim of Animal Control's punitive polices towards animals and owners.and that pressure on the family and everyone including the neighborhood have negatively affected everyone and made him the scapegoat and focus of concern when he isn't really the problem; just caught in a bad situation. .

Because of that context, his progress which is especially remarkable and a testimony to a smart loving  loyal dog has been made the background when it is the foreground and the two incidents described are in fact minor parts of this picture and not descriptive of his abilities at all. I also know by your description that he is very bonded with Princess and they each depend upon one another. She will miss him and have her own reaction when he is gone.

Goals: I  would  have Fido in very part time  day training ( half a day ; a couple of hours) a few days a week while seeking a home for him, perhaps drop off  for a few hours a day for example to improve dog walking skills and a better analysis of inter- dog discomfort.with a plan.

That improves placement success.  Barking at novel stressors is normal behavior in dogs, His fear response is controlled. I am guessing that something is being communicated during leash walking that he is picking up on because he is intelligent and quick to pick up on non-verbal cues. That is about mis-communication and can be resolved.

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