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July 25, 2008

I wish I had some exciting news to report, but we’re mostly mired in the nitty-gritty foundation work of our new behavior modification plan. Not very sexy stuff, I’m afraid. But, here are a few observations and struggles.

The Foundation Sit-Stay Protocol
Our new plan includes something similar to the Relaxation Protocol we did in the fall, but this one requires a sit-stay that’s released or at least marked as complete after each task, where as the one we did before allowed and strove for the dog to lay down, get progressively floppier as the tasks went on.

Since Lilly has such a strong default down, I was worried about the sit, but the instructions said to treat a down as a broken stay, which requires me to turn my back and ignore her before trying again. But I’m surprised to report that it’s not happening that often, during the 10-day foundation protocol, she only went from a sit to a down a handful of times.

I was also a little wigged out by releasing her after each task (sit for 45 seconds, sit while I clap my hands, sit while I leave the room, etc.) To me, it felt like a backwards off-switch game. In other words, relax/get up, relax/get up … rather than be wild/calm down, be wild/calm down. There is no wild in this equation, just a way to mark the end of each exercise. Many times, when I say OK, Lilly doesn’t move, so I’ll begin the next task in a new spot. Any bets on if this is eroding my release word?

All in all the first 10 days went just fine. She clearly understood the process once we got into it, and she indeed developed a less intense, almost serene look on her face while sitting there as I did all manner of nutty things as she stayed put.

Cold Shouldering Attention Seeking
There’s no way around it. This process sucks. Extinction Bursts (it’ll get worse before it gets better) are real and terrible. I knew Lilly bugged me a lot (kissed me, poked at me, stared at me, threw behaviors at me, made noise at me), but now that I keep track of it and take action to decisively ignore it by standing up and turning my back on her, I realize just how bad it is. Someone … help …. me ….

I’ve become a jumping bean, and I cannot stop. It’s a wonder I’ve been able to get any work done at all. Sometimes I have to turn away from her 3-5 times before she gives up and sits or something. But, then I wonder … did she learn anything from that?

So, we’re upping the ante. I’ll know leave the room and close the door for 20 seconds when she bugs me.

Win Some, Lose Some

We’re still battling over coming in at night. Sometimes our new strategies work, sometimes they don’t. One evening after I began playing door games with her, where we play fetch in the entryway and front sidewalk or we run inside together for HUGE treat parties, Lilly came inside like a star. No balking, no worming, no fear. She just walked right in the door. Victory … was … mine.

BUT, she promptly went in the basement and hid until bed time when I asked loudly who wanted to come snuggle with me.

On the other hand, several nights when I resorted to carrying her inside, she happily played with food toys and hung out with us in the living room all night.

So, far, I rarely get both (coming inside easily and not hiding) on the same night.

It’s truly a mystery to me why after about 6 pm in the evening, during the summer, the front door and the dog pen door suddenly become “scary.” Trust me, she comes in these doors ALL … day … LONG. For the life if me, I cannot figure out what the difference is.

We’re trying a new strategy now. Lilly comes in for the last time for dinner, which she’ll always do. Then, we’re leaving the door to the garage and the door to the dog pen open in the evening so that she has control over going in and out. It takes me out of the equation and lessens the chance I’ll accidentally make things worse by infusing emotion (mostly frustration) into the event.

Full-On Panic
When wind from open windows throughout the house slammed our bedroom door Wednesday night, Lilly about jumped out of her skin. I sat with her while she shook for 15 minutes. It took a full 30 minutes for her breathing to return to normal. She’d already had a hiding episode over me opening the kitchen window that evening, but it was short-lived and mild by comparison. Loud noises will be another tough hurdle.

To make it easier, we’re adding another drug. The order got faxed to my veterinarian this morning, and I hope to get it filled today. I’ll tell you more about it next week, when I have a chance to read up on its affect, but basically it’s a straight up anxiety drug that’s often used in dogs with severe noise sensitivity.

Our behaviorist confirms that it’s common to feel exhausted, frustrated, and a little hopeless at this stage when we have some goals in mind and are NOT there yet. Microscopic steps …

About the Author Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related.

I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

  1. I thought that I’d mention that my dog also has fears of various places in our house, but only at night. Her fears come and go — they first occurred when she was a puppy and our older dog had just died. They come back a couple of times a year (and interestingly, the ‘new’ dogs in the house mimic her behavior and also act scared of those spots). Each time, we deal with it by having her eat her meals in the spots that are scary to her for however long it takes for her to get through her fear.

    We always assumed that the fact that the fears were only at night had to do with lighting (her scary spots are inside the house) … but an outdoor area at 6PM would be very bright at this time of year. Perhaps the shadows are different from other parts of the day? You’ll probably never know the reason.

    Hang in there. It sounds like a hard program but I bet that it’ll be worth it.

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