Sheltie – 8 year old barker! And a huge Success Story!

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“You don’t know how grateful we are for everything you’ve helped us with. Just when we thought it was hopeless, you’ve given us the tools for success! …………. Paula, Dave and Riley, West Boylston MA”

Riley is an 8 year old Sheltie, a very smart and wonderful dog with just a couple of 8 year old quirks.

Reacted to tin foil – successfully fixed
Reacted to trash can liners – successfully fixed
Reacted to sheets being shook out – successfully fixed
Reacted to people leaving – successfully fixed
and ……….. barked relentlessly at other dogs – much improved and on the way to being Fixed!

Riley and his family moved from a home with a yard to a condo complex. Riley always barked at other dogs, but while at home in his own secured yard it wasn’t a problem, it was a rare occurance after all that other dogs went by.

When Riley and his family moved into a condo complex, where there are lots of other dogs around every corner and at every turn, Riley was enormously stressed and barked and lunged relentlessly at them. Just taking Riley for a walk to the potty area was a huge challenge for the family and for Riley.

Working on Riley’s indoor quirks was pretty simple.

Step #1, no more human yelling. It’s so hard for us humans to not yell and hollar when we are stressed and at our wits end, with some simple tools, there was no longer need for yelling.

Riley learned to “go to place and stay” when people come and go. Riley took to this wonderfully and the family asks Riley to “go to place and stay” for any and all door activity, people coming, people going, taking Riley out, he “stays in his place” until released. Truly wonderful and very successful. Happy Riley and Happy Family and Happy guests who’s ankles are now safe.

Riley learned that tin foil, trash can liners, sheets etc meant good things happen to Riley. By putting a cup of dry dogfood in the cabinet where the tinfoil is kept and tossing a few nibbles to Riley simultaneously with taking out the tinfoil, Riley learned “woooo hoooo!!!! Bring on the tin foil because good things happen to me!” The same protocol is followed for trash can liners and shaking out sheets, toss the kibble and while Riley hunts and nibbles he’s oblivious to the horrible trash can liners, sheets and tinfoil! He actually is learning to look forward to these things that use to cause him such extreme stress. In fact it’s now a game for Riley.

The dog/dog aggression, more difficult indeed. Normally we would use desensitization protocols whereas when Riley sees a dog, but before he has a chance to react we say “good dog!” and give a very high value treat. In time, this changes the dog’s emotional response to other dogs and his threshold for the presence of other dogs improves. Unfortunately living in a condo complex we didn’t have enough distance between Riley and other dogs to perform the desensitization protocols successfully.

Oh no! What to do?!!

We changed venues and modified our training protocols a bit.

By keeping training sessions short, the dog and the humans enjoyed the lessons. Exhausted humans cannot learn. Exhausted dogs cannot learn.

We worked the procedure in a big park so we could have plenty of space, eventually being able to habituate the new behaviors so they would translate at home. By working in the park, Riley did not have preconceived notions about where another dog may appear from. Riley was much more relaxed on neutral territory than at his place of residence.

During Lesson #1 we learned that Riley’s threshold for tolerance to another dog was nearly nil. If he could see it on the horizon, he’d bark and carry on. So not wanting to work on the horizon, we started at about 20 yards with a neutral dog standing still, ignoring the barking sheltie until Riley offered either quiet behavior for 2 seconds, or a calming signal. If a calming behavior was exhibited by Riley, the neutral dog skipped off into the sunset.

Riley went home that morning and rested nearly the entire day, this was a lot of stress for him. For 8 years either other dogs moved away from him or he was moved away from the other dog for barking, now the other dog doesn’t move away unless Riley is quiet, this was a very new concept for Riley.

Lesson #2 when Riley was quiet, he was led away from the neutral dog simultaneously while the neutral dog was moved away from Riley. Riley was looking back over his shoulder to see what was going on so this worked well as he saw the dog leaving him as his reward for quiet behaivor. Fabulous.

Progress was logged by checking off the calming signals that the dog gave (or quiet behaviors.) Substantial improvement was seen between Lessons #1 and #2 which would not have been noticed if not for the log as there was still a lot of barking going on.

Lesson #3 we lined up small plastic bowls and put a piece of prime rib in each bowl. (Yes, we really used prime rib!) The dog was allowed to see the prime rib bowls first with the neutral dog about 8 yards away and standing very still. The handlers used a simple jolly routine while approaching the prime rib bowls and thus approaching the neutral dog. This was a fun game for Riley, look at the neutral dog and jog over to the prime rib bowls. The family had 2 handlers and one handled the leash while the other made sure the prime rib bowls were always populated with prime rib. The neutral dog just zig zagged closer and closer to Riley while Riley was having fun with the prime rib game. If Riley barked, he got an “eh eh eh” and was hurried away from the prime rib bowls. This was very very successful. Riley learned that his quiet behavior in the presence of other dogs equals prime rib! Eventually, in lesson #3 Riley and the neutral dog were walking laterally at about 8 ft distance from each other with nearly no barking.

Subsequent lessons included multiple dogs moving around Riley while Riley played the prime rib game. At one point Riley passed both dogs simultaneously without a bark!

We successfully increased Riley’s threshold so that they are all now able to walk their dog in their complex and apply desensitization techniques. Ie: I see dog, I get prime rib. Riley breaks his neck to look at his handler now upon sight of another dog and waits quietly for his treat.

The family can now have a relaxed walk in their complex, Riley’s threshold is improving all the time and he is manageable and workable in his own environment.

Thank you to Tammy, Brian and Rose – my Delta Society friends for helping with this process and without whose help progress would have been much slower. Rose is a Therapy Dog and trained to ignore other dogs no matter the other dogs behavior!

Riley now joins our group walks on Sunday mornings, he leads the way with nearly zero barking!

This is a wonderful success story with dedicated owners! We resolved Rileys problems without too much stress, without pain, without yelling.

Do not try this approach without a partner and a coach, logging behavior is critical and observing behavior to minimize and eliminate stress on the dogs and humans is crucial to success! Seek professional help for any and all aggressive behaviors.