Friday, 11 October 2013

A pondering on the funny ideas we get!

You have to face your fears...

Here's one - and in one way, it is true - if you don't sort out a fear or phobia, it can limit your life, it can cause you to react in a way that is dangerous or unpleasant for those around you too!

This is as true for us as it is for dogs, but we forget, we can explain things to other people, those of us with fears can talk about those fears with others and make choices about how they address them.

Dogs can't do that.

If you ask most people how they would go about addressing someones fear, for example, a child's fear of the dentist, they would use rewards, they would try to make the experience nice. The dentist may well have some ideas too, for example, pictures or mobiles on the ceiling above the chair can help distract and calm. Fishtanks in waiting rooms have long been used to calm people and prevent them working themselves into a panicked state before they get into the scary chair.

There are drugs to help too, and stickers for afterwards (and who doesn't love a sticker, I'm 33 and I still love a sticker!).

When it comes to the dog though, how many people forget all the above and shove the dog in at the deep end, and say things like 'he has to get on with it' or 'she's got to get over herself' or similar phrases to that effect.

And then, when a dogs way of communicating his fear involves lashing out, behaving aggressively, barking or biting, people react with anger (do parents get angry when a frightened child kicks the dentist or bites them, probably not NEARLY so much!).

Avoidance is not dealing with the problem...

Again, this is another 'yes' and 'no' thing. If you JUST avoid something and never attempt to deal with it in any way, then no, it isn't dealing with the problem. Of course not.

But avoidance isn't the full story when it comes to dealing with reactive dogs, fearful dogs.

When a trainer tells you to avoid the situations that make your dog react, kick off, panic, they are not saying 'stay at home, never leave the house with your dog again'.

They are saying 'avoid your dog experiencing the level of fear that causes him to react' - dial it back, manage him so that he doesn't get to that stage.

So your dog goes nuts at other dogs, avoid them.... but in the process of avoiding them, also:

Make a mental note of how far away a dog needs to be before your dog reacts.
Make  a mental note of his behaviour - how tense is he, how able is he to comply, how able is he to focus on you, in each context.
Make a mental note of which contexts and situations produce which reactions.

In other words, whilst practicing avoidance, you are also LEARNING about your dogs reactions and how he is handling things.

After a few weeks of avoidance  you should know whether your dog can handle seeing another dog at 30ft, 50ft, 100ft. Is he better if that other dog is on the other side of the street, walking toward or away, is it a small dog or a big dog. Can he handle dogs he can't see but can hear. What about those he can see but can't hear, does the speed of the dogs movement change things, does the other dogs behaviour have much bearing on his reaction.

This avoidance phase also has a positive effect on your dog - you are demonstrating to him, each time you spot another dog and take evasive action, in a way he can understand, ie by your actions, that YOU will handle the problem and importantly, you WON'T force him to approach, deal with it, etc etc.

All too often I see people trying to force their dog to deal with a problem, the dog who is worried about other dogs is just taken to a dog park and forced to get on with it... fairly predictably, this method does not work. Where it appears to work the reality is the dog has suppressed their fear, not gotten RID of the fear!

I like thinking up analogies to help people see the oddness of some ideas or concepts... so this is my 'face your fears and just get on with it' one.

If you are rehabbing a meth addict - would you take them to a meth lab to deal with that problem? Do we take crackheads and put them in a crack house to fix their problem?
The answer to both of those is no, because we do know that actually, to deal with any chronic behaviour pattern, we need to break the job down into easy achievable goals, starting out in an environment that is conducive to success.
So just as we wouldn't expect to teach someone new behaviour patterns, new coping strategies to deal with a meth addiction IN a meth lab, we don't take the reactive dog and try to teach him how to handle other dogs IN the dog park!

1 comment:

Matthew said...

Also excellently said.

mean to post this following in this post and not your post from the other day.

To provide a real world dog example of what Emma talked about, my dog has gone from being reactive to people and dogs he did not know at any distance to a dog that has dog buddies, passes dogs, actively seeks out attention from people outside the family. it all started with "avoidance".