My daughter, her fiance, and my two granddaughters came over last night to help me with Ben. Ben is reactive to “young children”, but since I don’t know what the age range is, and since my family offered their help, I decided to start with them. My oldest granddaughter, Tia, is 12. My youngest, Nikki, is 9.
Tia was pretty nervous. She knows the score with Ben, and she wasn’t feeling very confident about him getting close to her. But, she gave me her trust, and we began the exercises. To help Ben create new, positive memories, we used food treats as a reward. Ben was on the slip-lead and was kept under control at all times during the exercises.
Ben. Was. Awesome. He remained calm in spite of the presence of the food, he focused on the girls, and he waited until he was given permission to take the treats. He did not offer any negative energy, and his body language was alert but relaxed.
The next exercise involved having the girls come running into the kitchen with lots of excitement and high-pitched, loud voices. We began with Tia; I had her jump up and down with excitement, and I did the same. Ben did react by barking, growling a little, and then trying to lunge at her; the correction was fast and immediate, and when I had Tia repeat the exercise a few more times, he did not repeat the mistake. When I had Nikki do the same exercise, Ben showed nervousness and uncertainty, but he did not attempt to practice any kind of negative behavior. Instead, he tried very hard to avoid it all by ignoring it. He did a phenomenal job of it.
The final exercise with the girls was to have them take turns running up and down the hall with Glimmer and playing with her and her ball. Ben is highly reactive with fast, sudden movement; he doesn’t handle it well at all. So, for this exercise, I ensured he could see and hear what was going on, but he would not be able to attack. As I expected, he did react… with Tia. But only once. I corrected him immediately, and after that, he did his best to ignore the situation – even when Glimmer started barking because she was revved up from playing.
Last night was the first time since Ben has been with me that he’s been surrounded by a lot of people, none of which he knows, and two of which are children. It’s the first time he’s been purposely exposed to very high levels of energy and excitement, and sudden, fast movements – all of which trigger his reactivity, and can cause him to deliver a bite. He did become reactive, but he responded immediately to the corrections and did his best to become calmer. And to reward that positive behavior, he was invited by my daughter to play tug with a KONG bone he really likes.
Ben does not appear to understand how to play with humans. He did try to mouth my daughter’s hand, but she gave him the right correction, and he immediately adjusted his behavior. The result was that he was able to enjoy some real play time with a human other than me or my husband.
Ben is still very nervous and uncertain around human men. He is getting better with my husband, but that’s because we all live together and Ben knows my husband won’t hurt him. But when Paul, my daughter’s fiance, attempted to play with Ben, Ben showed fear and uncertainty and tried to cower away from him. Paul gave Ben several calming and reassuring signals, but still, Ben would not play. He did not growl at or show aggressive body language to Paul, but he would not approach him, either. Ben is really afraid of human adult men… 🙁
Because of the great success we had with last night’s exercises, I’ve asked my daughter and her fiance to come to my home as often as they can to work with Ben. He desperately needs to learn to trust men, or his chances of having a forever family will be very slim. For my part, I’m going to kick things up a few notches and start exposing him to more people, many of which will be men. I have 9 days left before DINO makes him available for adoption, and we have at least 6 months of hard rehabilitation to compress into that timeline.
Have a great day, everyone, and remember to stay calm and lead on…