Of all the things that trigger Skylar’s intense and extreme reactive behavior, only three have been very difficult for her to deal with: meeting other dogs, anything associated with the door [bell, knocking, etc.], and the vacuum.
Yesterday, I spent a total of about an hour working with her around the vacuum. She needed to be directed to the “place” cot several times before she understood that it was the place to go when the machine was turned on. As we moved into the last 15 minutes of the session, she found the toy she really likes and she was redirecting her energy onto that instead of attacking and trying to kill the machine. Each time she made that choice, she was acknowledged and praised. By the end of the session, she was averaging about 3 out of 5 times for making a wiser decision.
Last night, I took Skylar over to a friend’s home to work her around their kids and their large dog, Lilo, who is about 10 months old, very friendly, and nearly twice Skylar’s size. While Kim managed Lilo, I had the kids play in the snow and make all the noise kids make when they’re having fun. While they did that, I walked Skylar back and forth, allowing her to stop and watch for a few seconds when she felt curious before moving forward again. We did this several times, and then I had Kim pass by with Lilo several times. We did this for about half an hour before Lilo started pulling up her feet because they were getting cold. Each time we did the exercise, I brought Skylar a little bit closer to Lilo. By the end of the exercise, Skylar was able to handle being near Lilo without becoming reactive. She even extended her nose to one of the kids, who was laying on top of a snow pile after jumping around and making a lot of noise only a couple of minutes earlier.
Skylar is not cured of her reactive behaviors – not by a long shot – but she is also not the same terrified dog that came to me three weeks ago. During her time with me, she has been learning to make different choices. She’s been gaining confidence. She has been learning to trust. Yes, she is still learning that when she alerts to someone at the door, she doesn’t have to continue barking after she’s been acknowledged. Yes, she’s still learning that when people are coming in, her only job is to observe quietly and wait for direction. Yes, she’s still having trouble with the vacuum. And yes, she still gets nervous around other dogs and in situations with high levels of excitement. But the progress Skylar has made in all of these areas is nothing less than phenomenal. The photo above is just one token of proof.
Skylar needs time, consistency, lots of patience and encouragement, and ongoing support and reinforcement to help her completely overcome her trouble spots. But she will get there. Yes… Yes, she will.