Sir Barks-A-Lot

Loki and his buddy, Coco, are barkers. Major barkers.

Loki’s bark is quite loud and Coco’s bark is shrill. Their barking sends my elderly father into an anxiety attack. Plus, it just drives us all nuts. So, today my mom and I are working with both of them on barking. We’re using Clicking With Your Dog by Peggy Tillman to reach them to bark when asked to.

My mom has the week off of work so, it will be a week of regular training with them both.

We haven’t done this before because of the stress it causes my dad. Now, he is able to take a higher dose of anxiety meds when needed. Hopefully, we won’t drive him insane during this process.

Wish us luck!

My Frustrated Friday

Friday was a challenge for a reactive dog & his mom.

My youngest stepson, Christian (18), came to stay on Friday. It was only his second time visiting since we brought Loki into our home. Unfortunately, Christian wasn’t at home during Loki’s first days with us so, he thinks that Christian’s a stranger.

Loki is clearly uncomfortable having him in the home, let alone staying overnight.

We discovered that Loki was afraid of strangers when Christian came to stay the first time. I had no idea what “reactive dog” meant at the time. We tried giving him treats. We all made a point of sitting next to Christian to show him that it was alright. We also had Christian give him treats and try to play with him. Nothing really worked. Every time he saw him he growled and barked.

I was better prepared the second time around.

After a walk with dog reactivity work in the late morning after our new routine, we were ready for Christian’s second visit. I had my husband, Alex, walk with Christian to meet us a city block away from our home. From a distance, I began clicking & treating when Loki noticed them. After a bit, I began Behavioral Adjustment Training (BAT). We walked until he alerted, waited until he looked away, clicked, jogged a distance away from them, then treated.

I had to increase the distance a few times, but we made some headway.

Lastly, we had Christian walk home as we followed him from a large distance. We kept them completely separate the rest of the night. They never once saw each other. This was more for my benefit as I was too tired and stressed to do more.

Loki barked at the sound of Christians voice and his walk all through the evening and into the next day. I was at my whits end by morning and frustrated from not being able to have my home be my sanctuary. Loki was bored from being locked in the room, but he enjoyed hanging out in the yard with him mommy, grandma, and Coco.

Loki

Playing tug with Coco

Then came Saturday…

By Saturday, Alex was tired of the hassle and thinking that keeping Loki in a separate room was unnecessary. So was Loki’s grandma and grandpa whom live with us (Coco is their pup). After much back and forth I finally caved to the pressure under one strict condition: If Loki in any way hurts Christian, Alex as his father and the one pushing the hardest to just let Loki out, will not UNDER ANY CONDITION, press me to get rid of Loki. I saw this as a choice Alex was making knowing the possible consequences and knowing it was not recommended by our trainer. So, if he chose to do it anyway, then it was not Loki’s fault if he became agressive. In essence, we were setting him up to fail to some extent.

I let Loki out to have free reign of the house and full access to Christian.

He immediately approached Christian while growling and barking. A lot of barking. I told Christian to completely ignore him and he did. I had turkey hot dog pieces in his treat bag and we C/T a lot.

The bad news: he did not pay any attention to the treats as I put my hand out and then dropped them on the floor.

The good news: when I said, “Loki,, look, take it,” while tapping my toes near the treat he looked at it and took it.

Loki never barred teeth, lunged, or bit. He sniffed, barked, and growled while wagging his tail. At one point, he went all the way up to Christians hand and sniffed it. Then, he backed up and growled/barked and moved away.

He made the choice to investigate, although warning Christian the whole time, and then distanced himself from the potential threat.

In some ways, I think this was a victory. He was allowed to make decisions and all of the decisions he made paid off because we were in control of how Christian reacted to them. Our trainer, Shaun, has pointed out that Loki has a hard time “quickly” deciding between what is a threat and what isn’t. We gave him the time to make that decision then ended it as soon as he decided to focus his attention on other things. I put him in his kennel with his lunch while Christian left for his moms home.

We were lucky, and I know it. The rest of the family didn’t think Loki would bite from the get go. I am not sure if they fully understand how lucky we were. I sure hope they do.

I don’t know what Christians next visit will look like. I have talked to him about doing some training that involves a lot of C/T while he simply looks around a corner, then steps around the corner, etc. He has agreed to doing this training which, makes me a very happy and relieved mom. Will I cave to pressure again? Probably. After it going well the last time, I am sure others will feel all the more validated that it is relatively safe to let Loki roam free. I know it’s a false sense of security at this stage in the game, but with Alex’s assurances that he will not blame Loki if our experiment fails, I feel more at ease with the whole prospect.

I sure as Hell would not do this with a non-family member though!

New Routine

Yesterday we began a new morning routine.

After reading more about the Malinois breed on the ABMC Belgian Malinois Rescue site’s breed profile and reading a first time owners story, I decided to start Loki on a new morning routine.

Loki typically gets training, a walk (1/4-1/2 mile), and puppy play with his grandmas dog everyday. However, with his lacking in sleep, I decided that instead of one long walk he needed smaller, more frequent, doses of exercise.

It’s only day two and I’ve noticed an improvement.

His new routine:

  • Morning bonding on the bed with mom. 🙂
  • Moms starts up her coffee and we go outside to play fetch with a Chuck It while it brews. I get to learn to “recall,” “drop it” and “say please (sit)” while we play.
  • While mom drinks a cup of coffee, I get to have breakfast in my kennel and let it settle before we do more fun stuff.
  • Now, we get to go for a walk! Mom brings lots of treats for when we pass dogs in yards and people walking/biking.
  • When we get home, I get to nap while mom takes care of human stuff like eating breakfast.
  • I get to practice my training before lunch. Right now we work on targeting, sit, and down.
  • When mom does stuff around the house, runs errands, or is on the computer, I get to have a frozen Kong in my kennel, then I have lunch.
  • I get to practice more training and play fetch again before dad gets home.
  • At the end of the day, I sometimes get another walk after fetch, practice more training with dad, and get dinner in a large Kong treat toy.

I’m pretty lucky to have mom home with me all day!

Loki has been napping more and I’m sure he will feel less vigilant as a result. The Gentle Leader has made walking more enjoyable for both of us which, makes our mornings so much nicer. I look forward to teaching him to walk nice in a collar, but for now, we’ve got bigger fish to fry.

Update: my furry kid is not just napping, he’s been asleep for almost an hour. Success!

Kicked Out of Doggy School

Wednesday was our third training session. After the incidents we had during our last two classes, the bad news we received wasn’t all that much of a shock. After all, Loki did bite two trainers for a total of three bites. Well, the day wasn’t a complete loss. We got some bad news, but we also have some good news to share with you:

The bad news…

  • Loki was kicked out of the Canines With A Cause program.
    • The program, being a training program with the goal of creating a service dog relationship with a veteran, just isn’t set up for working with the behavioral issues of a reactive dog. Loki is just too vigilant, easily triggered, and doesn’t recover from mistakes easily. We had a long talk with our trainer and left the class with some sound guidance and things to work on.
  • Loki isn’t sleeping nearly enough.
    • He sleeps through the night with me as far as I know. However, he needs around 18 hours a day and he doesn’t nap much, let alone sleep, during the day. I’ve been watching him closely since this discovery and I’ve only noticed a total of one hour a day of combined napping with short period of sleeping. Keep in mind that this is after a two hour training session, walking, and playing with my moms dog. We came home that day and even though he was exhausted at training, he just could not settle down until everyone else was going to bed late that night.
    • I called the vet, whom we see this Monday, and asked about giving him something for sleep for a couple of days just to see how it would affect him. The poor guy hasn’t really slept since he was neutered. We tried Valium which, I had at home already. His vigilance and hyperactivity calmed down from an 8 to about a 6 on a pretty decent dose of medicine. He did not sleep any more than usual though. I’m worried this could be either a genetic problem or that his confidence is even lower that we though. I’m sure we are in for a long process of trial and error added to our continued confidence building activities.

The good news…

  • I still get to attend classes.
    • I can watch the training or even work with another dog. This means that I get to bring home what I learn and incorporate it into my training with Loki. It also means that Loki gets to get the training is a much less stressful environment.
  • We had a two hour training session all to ourselves
    • No one else showed up to class so, we got to spend one on one time with our trainer. Shaun Woodard.
    • We were introduced to and began working on Behavioral Adjustment Training (BAT). I am feeling much more confident having another tool in my belt to work with Loki on his fears.
  • We already had a vet appointment so, we don’t have to wait long to begin narrowing down why Loki isn’t sleeping. He recently had blood work. We will probably go over that again and maybe run some additional testing. I also will have the opportunity to find out exactly where my new vet stands on behavioral issues and medication. Having PTSD, I am of the mind that if therapy alone doesn’t work, medication may be necessary. I also feel that medication without the work of therapy is only a bandaid if it isn’t a physical or genetic health issue that is causing it. I think the same applies for dogs.

Our plan…

  1. Canines With A Cause – First and foremost, we are going to continue our current training. Our goal is to build confidence and manners. The actual skills learned, like sit or down, are just a bonus. I plan on continuing to attend the classes and adding what I learn there to our home training.
  2. Click To Calm – We are adding in the ten principals in the book, Click To Calm, into our home. We are starting with the first principal, saying please, and adding a new principal every week.
  3. BAT – I’m going to continue building Loki’s triggers list and using BAT to work on them one by one. I am planning to work with objects first while we look for a great “stuffed” dog to take the place of a real dog. We have to find someone with a super calm dog that doesn’t mind working with us before we can work on dogs. If I get the chance to work on his other issues, like people, once in awhile I certainly won’t turn it down. However, the inanimate objects are easier to keep within my control and will make a great difference in our daily walks. If we can improve his walks, he can enjoy them, and that will really help him overall.
  4. Building his confidence with being away from me – This is where my husband comes in. What his work with Loki will end up looking like, I don’t know just yet. I have given him guidance and made requests and suggestions. I’ll try to remember to keep you posted on how that is going. In the meantime, I have used a dog gate to keep him from following me into the master bath. So far he has amazingly crawled through the open cat door portion of it, whined and cried, left the room, and laid down as I did things. It’s something that I can do to be within his site but, not within reach.

So, here we are. We have a lot of work ahead of us. I am both scared to death and excited. I’m open to suggestions, training ideas, and of course encouragement ;-). Thank you for being a part of this journey. Loki and I have already benefitted from this great community of fellow reactive dog owners and dog trainers on Word Press.