She may look cute. But make no mistake……
If you aren’t part of her pack, and don’t come correct with doggy language……. She’ll eat you.
She’s not aggressive, per se. She just believes in rules. And, that’s fine. The problem is, no one else knows them, and she is the swift and harsh dictator of all she surveys.
Well, she used to be.
Now….. I have a few seconds to prove to her that my ability to “handle business” is still up to snuff. If I am on the ball, she’ll acquiesce. If I wasn’t……. I would be demoted, and she would rule the world.
Actually, I make her sound like a complete bitch. She’s not. She’s really just unsure about people. I figured out an interesting concept. And that is If she doesn’t have absolute faith in my ability/willingness to protect her, she will take it upon herself to be the sheriff. She is fearful. She needs to feel safe.
Here’s how I did the wrong thing:
I was pissed/embarrassed/frustrated at her being reactive to people so I would try to make her stop. I would scold her, or correct her. I would reassure the people that “she’s not usually this bad”, or “she’s sweet at the house”, or some such bullshit to lessen their disapproval. Sometimes, she’d be doing ok, and people would be standing there looking at her, or leaning over her, or god forbid asking to pet her….. And there I would wait, praying inside “please don’t go off Mabel”. And of course at some point she would. She would jump. And, I would scold. And it got worse, and worse.
She wasn’t sure of her safety. I wouldn’t “protect” her in her eyes. She was forced to “protect” herself. It works. When she reacts, it makes them leave, or makes us leave. Either way she got to choose to create distance by tripping out.
How I worked on fixing it:
1: solid pack structure protocol. Leerburg.com has a good DVD for more serious cases. The NILIF (Nothing In Life Is Free) protocol is good for the average pup.
2: Solid obedience. Sets a good relationship. Also, improves communication between you both. Most commands I am working on for her, are “Look” (quick check in), “Front” (sitting in front with uninterrupted eye contact), and a “heel” ON BOTH SIDES (use different words for each side, obviously). These are management tools. They will not be enough on their own. Once she goes into “drive”/”past threshold” she won’t, or won’t be able to, obey. But, having a task to focus on instead of the fearful thing, will help delay threshold. And if you look at the commands I recommend they physically help prevent focus on/proximity to the object. The “look” gets a break in the focus and will help you see how close to threshold they are. The “front” is useful when a trigger is approaching or passing, because she will have her back to it and eyes on me. The “heel” on both sides allows you to pass something, while keeping her on the other side of you, allowing you to effectively “block” her from them.
3: Counter conditioning: The thing I have started doing is a kind of reverse BAT type of protocol! As in I have the trigger approach me. I work those commands as I have the trigger approach us. I TELL THEM TO STOP APPROACHING as I notice her reaching threshold. Then I HAVE THEM STAY and we keep working until I see her relax at that distance, then I reward by ME TELLING THEM TO LEAVE. This process has the exact same effect in counter conditioning, and response reprogramming as BAT, with one important distinction. She sees me controlling the trigger. This is important because it gives her more faith in my ability/willingness to control the environment. Once the triggers can come close, I get really in deep with it. I will put her in a downstay and I will walk short distance away. I will have the trigger approach her and I will intercept and “herd” them away (this is all done VERY calmly and slow/smooth so as not to trip her into drive). See a natural calming signal/tactic in pack behavior is called “splitting”. When two dogs play too intensely, another dog will nonchalantly walk between them giving a lull. I want her to see me regulate her environment. The more faith she has in me protecting her, the closer the trigger will be able to get before it trips her threshold. But as soon as I see it, I “split” and herd the trigger out. By this point you will see her check in and give eye contact as if to say “you getting that, or should I?”. That’s good! it means she thinks you handling it is at least a possibility, before it wasn’t. Once they can approach pretty close and stick around her without tripping her….. You ready for real proofing.
You take her out where you are likely to encounter a trigger that you don’t control. If they don’t directly address her it should go just like previous work, problem solved. If you see her particularly concerned with something…. Buffer her. Put her on the other side of you so you block/split them. Literally. It will reassure her you see her concern and you’re willing/able to handle it.
If they try to address her give her a competing command (down/front whatever) to give her something to think about, and reiterate your control of her to her AND the trigger. Then tell the trigger to ignore her. Tell them forcefully if needed (calmly though). When your dog has absolute faith in the fact that you WILL NOT LET SOMETHING TOUCH HER. She won’t feel the need to be reactive.
My little Mabel can hold a down while strangers step over her. But she has seen me literally push someone over that was crowding, and starting to touch her (Yes….. yes I did push an old lady into cat food display at PetCo. But that’s another story). I’ve learned to listen to her. I’ve learned to protect her. She doesn’t have to be the sheriff. It’s my job now.
PS. – Let me just say, I hope that all my rambling on this site gets taken for what it is. The excited “out loud” processing, of things I am learning about! I am not a know it all. Hell, all I know, is that I don’t know enough! But I learn by writing down my thoughts. It’s my process. If it’s in a notebook, I get no feedback from those that know more. And, it doesn’t help anybody who may know less. Not preaching. Not Teaching. Just learning out loud.
****EDIT NOTE: We have begun officially calling this drill the “Faith In Handler” drill.****