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!

Loki’s Bark Deterrent System

It’s important to lessen a dogs opportunity to practice reactive behavior.

I have read this in blogs and in online articles. I read one particular post that gave me a great moment of inspiration entitled, “Practice Makes Perfect: Managing Your Dog’s Reactivity.” Loki has had a very clear view of the neighborhood from our second floor deck that leads to the yard. He has been able to see and bark at everything that passes by.

Until now :-)…

LokiDeck1

Bamboo fencing attached to our deck railing to limit the view.

LokiDeck3

Bamboo fencing from another angle showing what Loki used to be able to see: Kids walking home from school, neighbors playing in their yards, people walking their dogs, etc.

I’m having sinus and tonsil surgery today. In fact, I am probably in surgery right now as I scheduled this post before today. I do not know when I will feel up to writing, but I look forward to getting back here as soon as I can.

UPDATE: I must of scheduled the post for the night before instead of the morning of my surgery. Oops. The bamboo fencing I used can be found in any Home Depot or Lowes for about $25.00. Because of it’s 6ft height, I was able to cut it in half then attach it with zip ties.

We Had A Breakthrough!

Loki met our neighbor.

It’s been sunny and warm in the morning lately. I have been taking my coffee outside to enjoy the warmth and watch Loki play. As it turns out, our neighbor, who travels a lot, was outside. He decided to look over the fence and have a chat. The thing is, Loki has never met him, let alone really seen him, until now.

Naturally, Loki made a fuss about this new stranger looking over our fence.

For some reason that I am still trying to make out, he didn’t go completely over threshold. I was able to distract him with his new Jolly Ball!

We spoke for quite some time and almost every time Loki threatened to hit his threshold, I was able to get him to play with his ball. Two times, our neighbor lifted his small dog, a Mini Dachshund who is also reactive, to see Loki.

Loki did not freak out until his small dog hit threshold. 

He also lifted his Border Collie to see him. However, Loki has had a lot of practice barking at her and went straight to barking this time. It was the only time that I could not immediately distract him.

In all, we probably chatted for at least half an hour. It was a huge success, relatively. I’ll take it!

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!