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Since it’s been 3 months since Lilly started taking an anti-depressant, I can probably stop naming Friday’s entry with a number. So suffice it to say that Fridays will continue to be a big picture update on our progress and the week’s work.
As a preface to this week’s update, I want to revisit something conceptually, and that’s why I chose to try medication to help with Lilly’s behavior problem. For those just catching up, I spent 2+ years trying to help Lilly in other ways, including new ideas, new training venues, near constant training, all-natural supplements … you name it.
The decision to try drugs was HUGE for me. It’s not something I did lightly. It’s not like I expected miracles. It’s not like I’m not busting my @#$@# to work through Lilly’s worries. But, just as I would not withhold pain medication if Lilly or Ginko were hurt, I certainly would not withhold medications for other problems, if they might help. Ginko, for example, takes essentially the same thyroid medicine I take for low thyroid. From where I sit, and how I live, that’s not anthropomorphizing. That’s good medicine. To me, it’s the same with the drugs used to help with behavior.
The results after 3 months are both encouraging and NOT. Lilly is indeed snarking at other dogs less, but she’s also still having panick attacks now and then. Just this week, she survived a passing skateboarder on the path. She got nervous, but did not react with her voice or body. Then, a free-ranging springer on a flex-leash came bombing down the path, so I asked Lilly to get OFF TRAIL while he passed. My mistake? I asked her to sit near a bronze statue of a man with a gun. There are many bronzes in Golden, the town closest to us, and Lilly indeed used to have full-blown freak-out sessions about all of them, but over the last 2 years, she’s gotten much better. So, her total panick caught me off guard. It’s been at least 18 months without a statue-related incident.
So, I was pretty discouraged.
What it says to me, in terms of the drug’s effectiveness, is that it’s helping Lilly deal with 1 or 2 triggers at a time, but if 3 or more come in quick succession, then she still goes over threshold. Is that progress? I’m not sure.
Before the others arrived, we worked on re-orienting after she’s released from her crate. Since we were in public, I had her leashed, but it was a long training one, and Lilly quickly learned to pop out and turn into me. So that’s good. I’ve tried training it at home too, with less success. At home, she’s far more likely to blow me off.
There were only a few dogs at class this week, several of them young and wild. Lilly did really well. I could tell that she wanted to “correct” them, but she didn’t. Still, if she nearly took action, I praised and treated her like crazy, then I moved her farther away so that she’d be less tempted. For example, we were sitting about 5 feet from the fence when a dog charged the fence while playing inside. Lilly fidgeted, but did not react. Still, we moved further back and settled again on our mat.
We played a little LOOK this week. She doesn’t seem to think it’s hilarious, so I’m not sure she sees it as a game, but she will look at people, dogs, bikes, geese, whatever, when I ask.
The challenge this week, in addition to the dogs and such, was that one handler brought her 2 children so that they can learn to work with the dog too. I could tell that their noise and quick movements bothered Lilly, but she hung in there. Until … at one point, the son decided to play with the PVC goal on the soccer fields we were using. It was maybe 30 feet from us, and he tipped it over.
Lilly didn’t have a direct response, but in the next exercise (flatwork of sorts) Lilly was slow and disinterested, which is the early stage of shutdown. Thankfully, Gigi and I were able to jolly Lilly out of it, but it cast a tinge on the day. Later, Lilly’s recalls were perfect but S-L-O-W.
She seems to like having her mat to lay on, though. If plops before I get her mat on the ground, then I just say NEST and she scoots at least part of her body on to the mat. I’m sure some of my classmates think I’m goofy.
We’re into our second 15-day round in the protocol. Now, we’re working in the entry hall, so that I can use the front door and doorbell, etc. As I’ve mentioned, I’m training the sleepy eyes and lowering of the head in a down as separate pieces because I’m NOT getting them naturally through the protocol. Lilly is pretty mellow (for her) while we work the protocol, but I wouldn’t say she’s getting progressively more relaxed. She still follows me with her head and eyes when I circle her or move away, for example. But, other than the talking and knocking problem last week, she doesn’t pop up.
I dread the doorbell, which is coming, though. Wish me luck.
Lilly went holiday shopping with me last weekend. It was cool enough that I didn’t have to worry about leaving her in the car. She’s a real trooper, hanging out in her crate while I shop. Then, when I return, we worked a little bit in each parking lot or on the sidewalk outside the stores. She seemed anxious to get back to the car each time, but she did work and not freak out at the people or cars going by. She didn’t even seem to care when dogs in other cars barked at her as we passed.
I’m feeling fairly overwhelmed by all the things I should be training Lilly to do as part of our new behavior modification plan. Each little shaping event only takes a few minutes, but it feels like a lot some days. This week, I tried a new coping strategy, where I only try to do 1-2 things other than the Relaxation Protocol. Here’s how things went.
At Sunday’s drop-in class with Gigi, I used the same settle-in strategy as last week, where Lilly’s mat made for a small safe haven. For those who may be wondering, this class is done in a public setting, and we often move from spot to spot near the dog park, so setting up a crate isn’t an option. That means Lilly’s mat must suffice.
She did really well on her mat outside the fenced training field while the other dogs played and worked a bit. When it came time to do distance stays, I brought her inside the field and placed her on her mat between Lucca (one of the German Shepherds we trust) and another newer dog who does pop up but seems to have a strong call-off and recall.
I could tell that Lilly was a bit nervous, but she stayed and worked. I gave near constant feedback from a distance, and I returned many times to give her food too. I enjoyed watching her use LOOK, without me cueing it. She kept looking at Lucca and then at me like, “Hey, did you see me look?”
We worked on STAY for quite a while, and when we were done, Gigi asked me to recall Lilly first so that we could leave the training area while the other dogs did their recalls and then played. So, I moved far away from Lilly toward the gate and called her, cheering her in. Then, I leashed her up so that we could leave the fenced area.
She did great in her recall, even though a very new dog (not sure his breed mix) got very excited by my cheering and popped up as Lilly passed.
Then, we did some OFF-TRAIL work so that the dogs could practice making way for walkers, bikers and such. Lilly did great, even with bikes whizzing by. This included a couple of small boys, who made all sorts of noise as they passed on their tiny bikes. Lilly looked at them and clearly didn’t like it, but she did not react. She just looked at them and then at me.
She did get uncomfortable and bark, just once, at some kids on the playground behind her during one exercise. So, I moved her across the path, where she could see the kids, rather than have them behind her.
We did some hand-target heeling near a flock of geese. That didn’t go so well. Lilly was very unfocused, but I think it was just interested sniffing, rather than displacement or nervous sniffing.
Relaxation Protocol Work
We finished our first 15-day round of the protocol yesterday. I chose to begin in my office since Lilly spends so much time with me in my home-office and since we do a lot of shaping work in here. As I said yesterday, if you had asked me on day 5, I would have said I thought the protocol was working. But, if you asked me now, my answer might be “no.”
Lilly adjusted from a sit to a down for the protocol within the first couple of sessions. So, that’s a victory, but she has not progressed to anything more since. Sometimes for the exercises where I’m supposed to be out of sight, I climb in my closet, which has louvered doors. So, I can see her. And, during the longer stays when I’m “gone,” her eyes do get heavy. So that’s something.
But, she has yet to put her head on her paws or flop out on her side. Her down is a nice tipped hip, relaxed down … not what people call a sphinx down, where dogs look ready to pop up. But, to get anything else, I’m going to have to shape that separately.
Lilly had trouble with the solo or double hand claps at first, but she has no trouble with continuous clapping since I clap so much for her when she does well in agility or after doing tricks.
So, all in all, we were doing well until I started talking while out of sight. She doesn’t react to “Hello,” but I don’t really say that all that much in regular life. So, I changed it to “Hey, there” and all hell broke loose. Even with Ginko in another room, he heard me and started barking, which caused Lilly to pop up and pop up and pop up. I finally had to stick Ginko in the basement, where he still barked, but it was muffled. I lowered my voice a ton, and only then, could Lilly keep her stay. We got through it, but I was very discouraged.
My office is not near the doorbell, so I’ve been using a regular bell as my doorbell noise for this round. I’m almost afraid to try the doorbell since that will also get Ginko going, which won’t help at all. He also barks when I knock on the wall or door. I don’t even want to get into working on his issues, so we’ll just have to crate him in the basement and turn on the TV down there so he can’t hear quite so well.
I started working more specifically on blinking this week. I’m still having trouble with blinking being combined with lip licking, which as I’ve mentioned is something Lilly already does on command. So, I’m trying to be VERY patient and wait for just blinking. I click what I can, but she’s not really offering it yet.
I’m also working on a collar grab that we’re calling GOTCHA. Typically, Lilly gets sheepish or defensive/submissive if you try to grab her, so I’m having to reframe that. I don’t think she thinks it’s particularly funny yet, but she likes the treats that come with it.
I tried doing a little of the method Leslie McDevitt calls “Give me a Break,” but I’m not sure I’m doing it right, so I may put that off for a while.
Maybe it’s the change of seasons. Maybe it’s the holiday pressures looming. Maybe it’s my many work deadlines, but I’m feeling really tired with training this week. I know that once I can make sense of each new thing — both for myself and for Lilly — the actually training part goes pretty fast. But, figuring it out before that is depleting me right now.
If you have any ideas on keeping up your energy and commitment, I’d love to hear them.
Have a nice weekend.
You found the right place to learn more about the Relaxation Protocol for Dogs! When I first read about Dr. Karen Overall’s Protocol for Relaxation in Leslie McDevitt’s book “Control Unleashed,” I had NO idea what it was about. None. Never heard of it. It’s considered baseline work for serious behavior modification training, like what I’m doing with Lilly. That much I got from the book, but it wasn’t until I saw the whole thing in print that a sinking feeling sunk me. I’m feeling better about it now, but here’s a bit about my journey so far.
Lilly went to our Sunday drop-in class for the first time in a few weeks. It was the first time we tried some of the strategies from the book “Control Unleashed” in a class setting. There were a few challenges since there were many new dogs in the class, so it was a big group. Here’s a rundown of our efforts.
We arrived just a bit early, and I parked in different lot so that Lilly would be less likely to have to deal with other dogs upon arrival or departure. I sat for a few minutes with Lilly on the tailgate of my car. I massaged her ears and took some deep breaths. Then, I tucked her mat in my belt, next to my bait bag. With clicker in hand and treats at the ready, we set out with Lilly on a long training lead, held short.
As we walked toward the small side of the fenced-in dog park, Lilly showed interest in saying hello to Conto, a big German Shepherd that we adore, but since the new rule is no visiting unless it’s part of an exercise, I called her off. This surprised Conto’s handler since I usually let Lilly say hi, if she shows interest, but I just explained that for now, Lilly is on a no visiting rule.
While everyone else went into the fenced area to let their dogs play a bit before class, Lilly and I settled down on the grass outside on her mat. I rubbed her. I kissed her. I fed her treats for just hanging out with me. When she growled and started to pop up toward a new dog that ran to the fence to look at her, we moved further back and settled in again on the ground together about 20 feet from the fence. We played LOOK, and it went OK, I think.
I asked our fellow reactive pal, Pete, and his handler to keep a bit of extra distance, so as is their norm, they stayed right up to the fence. Pete is great, even when other dogs come right up to him like that.
When class started, Pete and Judy went into the fenced area, but when I asked Lilly to join class, she laid down in classic shutdown style. So, we stayed outside the fence and worked there. We did some heeling and some down stays fairly close to the fence line. I just plopped down her mat, and she hung out with a high rate of reward for being good. We also played a little LOOK here too.
Usually, the class does restrained recalls last, but this week we did them first. So, again, I asked Lilly to join class. She balked a bit, but I used our mantra “The faster we move, the braver we are.” Once inside the pen with the other dogs, she did shutdown a bit, but I just gave her extra space until she perked up and then lots of treats. I also reverted to keeping her focused on me because she seemed to need it.
Come her turn, she ran straight to me across the field, with the other dozen or so dogs looking on. I cheered my head off, jackpotted her like crazy, leashed her up, and we sprinted for the gate. Once outside, we celebrated some more and jumped our jitters out. I figured that one recall was plenty, then I gave her a break again to just sniff and relax and walk around.
Later we worked over the the basketball courts on some stays and heeling. Then, we did pass the pup, where your dog has to work for someone else. Lilly tends to do well at that, so I went ahead and got into the circle. I just asked people to back up and give her extra space from the group … with the deal being I’d rescue her if she got too scared. I watched her out of the corner of my eye, and she did really well. She worked for 4 different people. Some she knows. Some she doesn’t. And by all accounts, she did just fine. So, that’s a good confidence builder for her, I think.
Plus, I got to work with Lucca (a brilliant German Shepherd), Taloola (a young, huge, goofy lab mix), Onyx (another border collie) and Princess Diana (a Brittany pup). It’s always interesting to me to work with other dogs. I think I have a higher rate of reinforcement than most people in my class, so dogs tend to dig me.
So, other than one shutdown, which I honored, and one growl, she did great.
During other work in public this week, we practiced LOOK with some chickens.