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.
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 (healingthebeast.wordpress.com)
- Working With Your Dog’s Thresholds (whlai.wordpress.com)