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— August 6, 2013 —

Daphne’s Story: Part Two.
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

If you didn’t happen to read last week’s Tuesday’s Tail, we wrote about Daphne. Daphne is a young female hound mix that was rescued from a local shelter approximately 3 months ago. Daphne’s mom Katie wrote a letter detailing her experience in training with us at Bark Avenue. The reason I write this Tuesdays tail is because I want to encourage people who have dogs with behavioral issues to try training before they give up their dog. Too often, people who have dogs with “issues” don’t think they can be fixed and end up returning a great dog to a shelter. If Daphne’s mom had returned her to the shelter, with her level of animal aggression, she very well may have been put to sleep. Not only is this not necessary, it would have been terribly unfair for Daphne to be euthanized over behavior that could have been dealt with through training.

While we’re on the topic of animal aggression, Daphne very clearly demonstrates something that I have said a number of times. She is ANIMAL AGGRESSIVE. She is not the least bit HUMAN AGGRESSIVE. People often think that an animal aggressive dog will likely be dangerous to people or kids. These two things are not necessarily linked. I have no reservations about allowing Daphne around people. She is completely trustworthy. In fact, Daphne was described as the sweetest dog in the shelter. The volunteers there were probably being totally honest. Many shelters don’t have the space to let dogs interact socially. Even if Daphne had a temperament evaluation upon intake, there is a good chance that she didn’t display dog aggression in the stressful new environment.

While she didn’t mention it in her letter, Katie has told me that during the initial evaluation she was concerned that we wouldn’t accept Daphne at all. In all honesty, Daphne did put on quite a show in our lobby. Anytime a dog walked into her view, she basically exploded. It didn’t take long to determine that it wasn’t an, “I’m excited and want to play” kind of behavior. Daphne was displaying true reactive aggression towards the dogs by standing on her hind legs, pulling, lunging and barking uncontrollably.

In dealing with difficult training cases, I may strongly suggest or even require, that the owner take the dog through both of our training levels. We believe in keeping things simple, so we have two training levels. One is On-Leash and the other is Off-Leash. Both of these programs are handled through a daycare based and private lesson format, that enables us to modify the program to deal with individual behavioral issues such as Daphne’s. If any of Daphne’s story sounds familiar, please consider coming to one of our open houses on Saturdays for a free evaluation. If you are not in Chicago, please contact a competent trainer in your area and discuss their experience with dogs like Daphne. This is not something that should be attempted if you have not had experience with dog-reactive dogs.

Through our initial evaluation, we determined that Daphne needed to go through both levels of our training program, On and Off leash training. In the Off Leash program, we utilize the remote training collar. The remote training collar is one of the most misunderstood devices in all of dog training. Electronic collars started off as a relatively severe &ldquoshock collar” type device and quickly gained a bad reputation. That was 25 years ago and today this device has evolved into an extremely effective, yet subtle and very humane training tool. I strongly recommend that anyone with serious behavioral issues NOT go out and buy an electronic collar and start using it on their dog. The remote collar is a very good tool, but without a proper understanding of the process of teaching the desired behaviors, it can be misused. Misuse of the collar can create as many problems as it can solve. In fact, I generally refuse to sell remote collars to the public. I only sell them to individuals who have committed to training at our facility or with another professional trainer.

Below is the four-phase program we designed specifically for Daphne:

During the On Leash portion of the program, we would cover the first two phases of this program.
Phase 1. On Leash Review-Remote Collar intro/Focus. Muzzle acceptance.
Phase 2. Training and Exposure.

During the Off Leash portion we would work on the final two Phases.
Phase 3. Desensitization.
Phase 4. Rehearsal.

Please note, there is no “Dominate the dog” phase. While training a dog like Daphne requires a strong personality, that relates more to the owner being willing to stick with the program and actually do the work every day. Technique and education trumps force every time. Traditional “Dominance” will only serve to demoralize the dog and may not ultimately succeed in teaching a dog to accept and even like being around other dogs. Katie gets more than 50% of the credit for this outcome. Without her personal fortitude, dedication and consistent effort, Daphne would not show such an improvement.

This week, we’ll talk about Phase 1. In Phase 1, I wanted to make sure Daphne knew the basic commands of Sit and Look while on a leash. I then began using the remote collar on the vibrate function to get her attention. In this Phase 1, whenever I gave Daphne a command, I vibrate the collar on her neck. Also, when I gave her a reward, I would vibrate the collar on her neck. So, it goes like this. (vibrate on) Daphne, Sit (vibrate off). Once she sits, as I give the treat, I say “Good Sit” and vibrate as she takes the treat. I do the same thing with the “Look” command. I worked on the behaviors separately, then integrated them so that “Sit” and Look” happened as one behavior. I asked Katie to practice this exercise at least three to four times a day for five to ten minutes. In the beginning, she was supposed do this with no distractions.

The goal in this phase is to get the dog to immediately turn to the handler any time the collar activates. When Daphne feels the vibrate on her neck, we want her to forget about everything else and turn towards her mom for a reward. This immediate response, through training, is linked to the verbal command. Ultimately, Daphne will respond to the verbal command whether the collar is used or not.

Once Daphne is very comfortable and clear with the vibrate function, we do the same with the electronic stimulation or “stim” function. We find a level where she barely feels the electric stimulation and follow the same procedure. The goal is not to make her afraid of the stim, but to relate it to working for her mom just like with the vibrate function. It should be noted that some dogs are naturally put off by either of these new sensations. If this is the case, the intro phase may take longer with any particular dog.

As a safety precaution, we taught Daphne to wear a muzzle comfortably. We did this by feeding her treats through the front of the muzzle. We would tell her “muzzle” and give her treats through the open muzzle. Eventually, on the word muzzle, she would put her face into the muzzle and take treats. This was built up to her having the muzzle strapped to on and quickly removed, then finally, we could leave it on with little resistance. We still use the muzzle when she is around strange dogs and this will likely continue for a while longer.

So that’s Phase 1. It lasted about two weeks for Daphne and was the foundation upon which we built the rest of her training. If we could get Daphne to sit and look at her mom on reliably on command, she’d cease to display aggression. Next week, we’ll discuss the next phase of Daphne’s program.

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