CASE STUDY ONE
Mia & Jamie were made for each other. Jamie adopted Mia from a shelter when she was 4. She had noticed she was standoffish and had been returned to the shelter previously. She was reactive, had severe separation anxiety, and had confidence issues. At one point, she snapped at a man who startled her on a walk. Jamie reached out to me to see what we could do to help Mia.
After conducting my initial review of Mia's behaviors, I put together a specific training plan to address these issues. Dogs have maladaptive behaviors because from their perspective, it works to fix their problems. Mia knew that snapping at people would keep them away. She knew that staying away from scary objects would keep her safe. However, the issues were not going to get better with these options. It was my job to give her a way to positively and patiently overcome her fears and communicate to Jamie when she was unable to cope with any particular trigger.
I taught her to do a nose target to first touch Jamie's hand, something that was safe, until she learned this behavior. Then we transitioned her to touching things that were a little more scary. She was allowed to move away and choose not to touch those scary things, and we would reduce the intensity of the scary thing if it was too scary, but every time she chose to get closer or even touch the scary object, she would be generously rewarded. This process helped build her confidence and changed her emotional response to things that were scary to her. Before too long, she was touching things that she would have never dared to even get close to before.
Additionally, one of the skills I taught her was how to communicate to Jamie that she was close to her limit of coping ability and that she needed to exit the current environment. She was taught to go between Jamie's legs and sit, which was a safe place for Mia. Jamie could then recognize the signal for help and remove Mia from the current stressful trigger. This gave Mia more confidence in scary situations and eventually, she was able to handle situations that she would have tucked her tail and ran from before. She needed to be able to communicate to her owner when it was too much while she built the confidence to handle scary situations, places, people, or things.
Today, Mia is thriving. Since working with me, she has not bitten any people or destroyed any doors. She works on self-soothing methods, does not panic when left alone, and can meet and trust new people. Friends refer to her as a "different dog" and "unbelievable happy." As much as I would like to take all the credit, had Jamie not taken the time to practice and use these skills, Mia would not have made the progress she did. This is why I believe Mia & Jamie were made for each other.
CASE STUDY TWO
IMPULSE CONTROL & HYPER-AROUSAL
Ranger & Ashley make quite the pair. Ashley is Autistic and has a range of symptoms that can make her life difficult. Ranger loves to help her cope with those difficulties. During my initial dog training apprenticeship, I assisted training Ranger when he first went through basic training and service dog training. Ashley and I worked together to shape and reinforce basic cues and task work that would assist Ashley in her daily life. However, afterwards we determined that there had not been enough emphasis on his impulse control and his hyper-arousal from the lead trainer.
I researched how to assist these additional tricky problems. We discovered that while ensuring he had adequate exercise, which Ashley could satisfy with a ball launcher that she had purchased, that we could turn his meal time into an opportunity to learn some impulse control. We added some specific food puzzles to his routines and I added an impulse control game to their training sessions.
After practicing these skills for a while, Ranger had slowed down his eating routine to a healthier rate and instead of scarfing down his food, he become more mentally aware of how he would manipulate his food puzzles, which transferred to other areas of his life and reduced his hyper-arousal states and helped him live a calmer life with Ashley.
Ashley and I still discuss any issues that come up and continue to improve their quality of life with every week that passes.
I'm very proud of these two 🙂
CASE STUDY THREE
Husbandry Consent Training
This is my dog Kira. Kira has issues with being handled for things like clipping her nails, brushing her teeth, checking her temp, cleaning her ears, and so on. These tasks are generally referred to as "Husbandry" in the veterinary community. She has never bit anyone for doing these things but she goes into a state of submissive-like behaviors. Behaviors like, getting stiff, quiet, she tends to push against any pressure, and generally becomes non-responsive. Through my research, I've learned that this state is called "Learned Helplessness."
Dogs, and other animals, offer the behavior of "Learned Helplessness" when they are experiencing something they are not comfortable with, but feel like they have no escape.
One of the first tools I learned in dog training is called "Counter-Conditioning." Basically, counter-conditioning, is the process of pairing a negative experience with something positive over several repetitions, and when done correctly and with time, the dog's emotional state should change towards the better. However, there is a better process for things like Husbandry.
This better process is called "Consent Training." When I teach consent training, what we do is we teach the dog a behavior to signal consent and only then are we allowed to perform the required husbandry tasks on the dog. If the dog ever stops offering the consent signal, we stop the tasks until the dog is offering consent again.
This process does wonders for dogs like Kira. It gives them the confidence to communicate to their guardians that they are feeling uncomfortable at this specific moment, but will be able to continue again, usually after a quick breather. It transforms husbandry into an activity of learning how to listen to your dog by giving them the ability to say "Yes, Continue!" or "Wait a second" or "No, not right now" in a way that doesn't force them to snap at us, or retreat, or pee on themselves. With a simple set of gestures, they can actually tell us when they are ready for us to be invasive with them and it keeps everyone much safer.
Since implementing this process with my dog, nail trims, teeth brushing, baths, you name it, have become a much more cooperative process and I no longer have to feel bad for making her do something she isn't comfortable doing.