Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Dogs + Behavior Modification

I've been pretty tight-lipped to most people about the struggles I've been facing with my dog, mostly because I was embarassed or ashamed ... or in denial.

Meet Bristol. She enjoys tennis balls, snuggling and long walks on the beach. In fact, she perhaps enjoys tennis balls a little too much!

We brought this little girl home in December 2010 after (2) rescue groups refused to work with us due to my husband's military career (great, right?) and a handful more wouldn't even respond to my emails. It killed me to go through a breeder, but I saw Bristol's puppy pictures and just had to have her. Actually, it was this picture in particular:
Commence Aww'ing. Lord knows I did.

I took her to basic puppy obedience ... and a follow up course as an adult. She did well at the time: but then came a maturation mark in her life. Ohhh 6mos. My ordinarily friendly, outgoing and socially acceptable pup decides I don't want anyone near my toys. I'll be a jerk about it, too. Horrified, I contacted her regular agility trainer about it (Teri is not only a fantastic agility instructor; but also taught obedience classes and occasional behavioral consults). Her advice at the time involved one of two paths:

1. Remove the toys when she's around other dogs ... seeing as she went back to playing/romping with other pups the minute the high-value item was gone
2. Bring in other dogs and other toys ... and replicate the problem so we can solve it.

Seeing as I didn't live with another dog and I didn't often have friends over with their four-legged pals .... I went for option #1. Ultimately, no ... I didn't deal with the problem. Mistake #1. 

But then let's fast forward to the 12-15mo maturation point. We had been taking agility lessons with (1) other dog, and to fill class ... our trainer had invited another dog/owner to participate with us. Miss Bristol, who normally gets working and completely ignores what goes on around her ... not only broke out of her weave poles and ignored what was a fail-proof recall, ran right up to the other dog ... and growled in that "I'm gonna open a can of whoop ass" way.  This happened several times over the next couple of weeks. Scared me senseless.

So we tried a positive-reward behavioral modification program ... and while counter conditioning worked for decreasing her reactivity to specific triggers, it did absolutely nothing for the increasing intensity of aggression when it came to being "in the moment". What started out as simply resource guarding her tennis ball now turned into resource guarding her personal space, any of her toys and her people. We invited what was her puppyhood best pal over, and her reaction to Haley was ... less than desired.

Finding a trainer the employed a method of behavioral modification that did not include purely positive reward was something of a challenge. But after several phone consults and quite a bit of Internet searching ... I think we finally have a winner! Can I just say right now that I'm excited to start the process of really fixing less than desireable social behaviors in my dog rather than just masking the symptoms?

If I've learned anything over the last year or so ... it's that Behavioral Modification = hard. Really hard. 99% of the time ... Bristol's reaction to life is wagging from nose to tail; pretty typical for Cockers. It'd be great if she could apply that demeanor toward other dogs, too... but I'm not hoping for miracles. I'm at least hoping for slightly more predictable. Reliable. No, what I'm expecting out of this? Is to shift the burden of pack leadership from her to me.


1 comment:

  1. While I love dogs (we have 2 German Shepherds) it is a difficult situation when their attitude changes for the not so desirable route... Hope your pups protective issues in the not so right moments gets resolved! Don't stress too much over it though. :)
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