Walking Miss. Daisy
Daisy is always full of smiles and wiggles when you walk pass her run. However, not too long ago she became quite reactive if you took her out of her run to take her for a walk. She would lunge and snarl at her neighbour Rocky; she’d spin and twist herself up in the lead, get fixated on the other dogs and continue lunging and vocalising towards them. I was always worried that she’d hype herself up so much, which she’d actually redirect whilst spinning back towards her handler. Yet, when she came back into her run, there was none of that behaviours present. This gave me the idea that her behaviour had turned into a habit, and with some time and loads of patience we started to break this habit down.
The first thing I did was to walk her in a Balance lead plus, this kept her closer to me, and I had two points of contact where I could influence her. She still managed to twist herself up a bit, but because her lead was now shorter (not tighter), I could manage her before she lunged. The next thing was to establish her triggers, which dogs set her off the most, unfortunately it was her neighbour Rocky so as soon as she came out of the run, her reactivity went from 0 to 100. The only thing I could do was to work backwards. Geared with a freedom harness, with two points of contact I rushed her passed the dogs (and of course she was reacting the whole time), but before we reached the gate I stopped, and just stood still. She was bouncing and barking and then realised we weren’t moving anymore. This made her pause and look at me. And then I did some Ttouch massages on her, so that she can gather her thoughts. I’d never touch a dog that is in such a hyped up state, the chances of getting bitten is quite high, so I wait for that pause. After the pause we’d walk VERY slowly out of the centre, giving her time to look around and just breathe a bit.
So this is what was done for weeks and weeks… and weeks with her. (It took her a while to build that habit, so it will not go away very quickly), every time I’d stop further from the gate (in other words closer to her run), and I’d also make frequent stops towards the gate, by this time she started to expect her massages when we stopped. Finally, we got to the point where we would have to stop opposite her big trigger, she would bark at him while passing, but there was no lunging and spinning.
When I realised, now we got it, I’ve had to stop anyone else from walking her, so I can work with her consistently. With every walk she got better and better, she was so much calmer. This week, I opened the gate for her and she sat down, she did not bolt out. (We’ve been practising this of course). I moved her to the other side of where Rocky’s run was so that we can walk in a curve around it, she did not lunge, she did not bark, she did not look at him. She happily trotted out of the centre, making eye contact with the dogs without barking at them.
This does not mean our work is over; we need to build a whole new habit. We need to turn old triggers into a cue for receiving a reward ‘her ttouch time’ and then we need to teach other handlers how to walk her so that she does not regress.