Gizmo’s lesson last night did not go very well. The initial plan – door conditioning and basics – went out the window when the downstairs neighbor, who was visiting the upstairs tenant, came out the upstairs door. Gizmo knows her and likes her, so there was no anticipation of a problem. But Chelsea became very nervous and tense, and in the blink of an eye, Gizmo became highly reactive and tried to attack the neighbor. Then, when I used the leash to gently guide him towards the outside, he redirected some of that energy onto me.
When a dog is in a highly reactive state like Gizmo was, never use touch to make a correction. To do otherwise is to risk being bitten, because the dog will redirect that energy directly onto the handler. We were in a confined space. Chelsea was feeding Gizmo nervous, fearful, anxious energy. The only option available to safely deal with the situation was to get the dog outside as quickly and as safely as possible.
Once outside, Gizmo’s reactivity continued. I took control of the leash; Chelsea was in such a high state of anxiety that Gizmo kept attempting to nip at her. I moved him out of her reach, but he was already so overloaded that his response was to try to redirect his energy onto me. Because we were outside, with lots of space to maneuver, I was able to correct him properly – and he responded very well and without attempting to bite me. There were several instances in which he was triggered either by people walking past us or dogs outside in their yard barking at him, so it took a very long time for Gizmo to release even some of that pent-up energy.
We are entering a full moon phase, and it’s well-documented that the full moon does have an effect on animals. So I am cutting Gizmo a little slack and I’ve told Chelsea to just walk him a lot over the next few days. However, full moon aside, Gizmo is making it very clear that his greatest need is rehabilitation, not obedience training. And I am fully committed to helping him achieve that.
Chelsea has told me she is now in counseling for her anxiety and PTSD, and I am recommending that this continues. She must learn ways to manage her emotions and reactions or she will not be able to help Gizmo. I am also strongly encouraging her to consider anxiety medication to facilitate this process.
Gizmo is a good dog. He just needs help learning to trust humans. Once he realizes he can trust humans, his reactivity will begin to decrease and he’ll be able to start moving forward into a more balanced state.
I am working with him again on Friday. To better determine how much of an effect Chelsea has on his behavior, I’ll be asking her to stay behind while I take him out and work with him. I suspect that taking her energy out of the equation will affect Gizmo in such a way that he will be able to deal more calmly with the things and situations that trigger his reactivity.
Have a great day, everyone. Remember to stay calm and lead on.