Overall, today’s first session with Chanty went very well. He was tense and had his tail tucked between his legs, and he persisted in trying to hide behind, jump up at, and push into Becky’s legs and body. When he was denied those options, he dropped his head down to chew on grass but looked up at the same time to watch for any danger. When I moved, he reacted by barking, mock-charging, and lunging.
This first session was spent helping Chanty become less sensitive to my presence. This was achieved by walking around him from a distance and having Becky walk him past me. For the walk-by exercises, I had her place herself between me and Chanty for several passes, and then place him between me and her for several passes. We did this exercise for about 20 minutes; for the last ten minutes, I had Becky bring him a little closer to me on each pass, keeping herself between him and me each time. Chanty gave her trust by following her and staying beside her on each pass.
Chanty has specific, sometimes subtle “tells” he gives right before he reacts. First, his ears come up in what may appear to be curiosity and he makes eye contact. Then, he emits a very low, soft growl and lifts his lip. Then, his front legs stiffen and his tail starts to wag a little. Then, his tail tucks between his legs again and he barks, lunges, and mock-charges.
During the session, I asked Becky to stop talking to him except to direct him [“let’s go”] or praise him. I also had her start using different words and phrases with him, as I had noticed that she was inadvertently giving Chanty permission to be reactive. Once she changed those, Chanty started to settle down and give her a bit more trust. After 45 minutes of hard, repetitive exercises, Chanty was finally able to tolerate my presence. At this first session, although he was seriously reactive, I earned some big points with Chanty: I was able to close the gap between us from five feet to just over four feet without having him become reactive. He still chewed at the grass and watched me at the same time, but he did not growl, bark, or lunge at me. It was a really big victory for him and for us.
Below is a highlight video of today’s session. You can see where he started from, and how he was after 45 minutes of desensitizing work. The next session is Sept. 16. Stay tuned for the update…