Duncan's Training Journal


Duncan’s Training Journal
(I thought I could post a journal on here to keep track of Duncan's progress, and it may be a reference or starting point for other people who are trying to help their dogs with fear issues. I would LOVE comments and suggestions, and will try to answer any questions people may have.)
To see Duncan's profile, please click on the link in my signature.

Duncan’s Behavior: Duncan was never fearful of people or other dogs, and is currently not fearful or aggressive with dogs. He is reactive around strange people. He is also more reactive and fearful when Cameron (my other dog) is not around. Duncan is skittish and fearful when cars drive by as well. To kick off this Journal, I want to describe three different instances, and then I will describe how I am trying to “rectify” this behavior.

· Duncan went to see the vet. When the vet assistant led pulled him onto the scale I could see he wasn’t going to tolerate her well. He tried avoidance, but then growled at her. When it came to hear his heartbeat he growled and snapped. A muzzle was put on him. He tried to become as small as possible on the floor. I had to hold his head and talk to him. He avoided eye contact and was freaked out the entire time. When the vet pulled away Duncan growled. The vet shoved his shoulders down and said “no” (which I don’t agree with, and think may have made Duncan more fearful of him). We will be trying to bring Duncan to the vet office once a week for counter conditioning.

· We had a trainer stand in the walk in area. Originally we were more afraid of Cameron’s reaction, and to an extent, we think Cameron’s fear-aggressive response exasperates Duncan’s response. Duncan spent most of the hour right in front of the trainer. He would growl, and show other signs of being stressed out. Avoidance, slow blinking, lip licking. The fact that he was so uncomfortable and afraid of the trainer, and yet still felt the need to get so close of unnerving. We have very few friends and relatives who are willing to come to the home to help out with training, but we want to show Duncan that it is okay to keep distance between himself and the guests, so we are asking guests to toss treats around 10ft away, at least.

· Duncan is fearful of meeting people on the street. He will pull to get away from someone approaching. He doesn’t pull away if he is with Cameron, well exercised, and at the beginning of the greeting. He is less tolerant towards the end. Unfortunately, because Duncan is big, has long, floppy ears, and is red in coloring people seem to flock to him rather than Cameron. I want to make Duncan more comfortable with people by desensitization, and counter conditioning, and controlled meetings on the street with friends and family.

Weekly goals:
· Take Duncan on a solo walk 4+ days a week.
· Take Duncan to the vet at least once.
· Train Duncan at least 7 times a day.

Long-term goals:
· Teach Duncan that distance from guests is not only safe, but can be rewarding to.
· Have Duncan be able to continue walking, without freezing or sitting down, while a car drives by on our side of the street, or two cars drive by on the opposite side.
· Have Duncan be able to stay calmly at my side while I have a quick conversation with someone else on the street.

Tools & Methods:
· Clicker training.
· Positive reinforcement, and negative reinforcement, I may also employ BAT; Behavior Adjustment Training. http://ahimsadogtraining.com/blog/bat/


Day 1: I took Duncan on a walk, without Cameron, to the Church down the street. Around 0.5 to 0.75 miles total. A walk that should have taken less than 15 minutes, even at me slowest pace, took us a half an hour. Duncan froze many times, and sat down and stared at every car that went by. I held a hotdog treat loosely in a cupped hand. I showed it to him because I want him to take it at any time so that the entire walk he has the opportunity to get a yummy treat, but about halfway towards the Church he stopped taking treats while walking. At the church we did some simple obedience commands, and he accepted treats here, but stopped when we started walking again. I clicked and treated for ANYTHING & EVERYTHING I liked. Taking an interest in a smell, looking at me, etc.

I introduced the command “let’s go” so that he would break out of a stare or freeze and walk with me. I clicked the second his head turned to look at me.

Day 2: More of the first day, only I’m noticing that he is picking up on “let’s go”.

Day 3: I’ve extended the walk so that it is a little less than one mile round-trip. I have decided we aren’t going to move on until he will take what I am calling “free treats”, treats he gets if he takes them out of my loose hand, at all points in the walk.


June 26th 2011: Had a guest come to our home, a friend of my brother. I don’t know what it is about this particular one, but both my dogs have a horrible reaction to him. Cameron bit him once, last year before anyone believed how serious the situation is. I held both dogs at a distance of around 10+ feet. The friend was supposed to toss treats, I gave him over 10, but would have been happy with 5. He dumped them on the floor and holding dogs with a combined weight of 150 lbs pulled me down and dragged me to chase after him.


I wish my parents would give an ultimatum to the guests, if you aren’t willing to do something as simple as tossing treats you don’t have to come over! Why am I working my tail off with the dogs just to have it all done be some guy reinforcing that when the dogs bark and lunge, he turns around and leaves? I’m not asking guests to do anything complicated, sheesh.

June 27th: Duncan is ready to move on distance wise! He is taking treats at all points in the walk, and has a 75% grasp on “let’s go” on the first cue. The walk is done in a reasonable time, down to 20 minutes! I’m still encouraging any interest in investigating stuff, smells, rocks, etc. He is still dragging me back home once it’s in sight, but not with as much gusto. Also, his tail is getting much "looser". It is still tucked more than what I would like, but not as stiff. I think I may draw a picture to show what I mean.


June 30th: Felt like back to square one. Duncan started out the walk great, looking around, sniffing new things, but at about half way of the walk we were previously doing (before we extended the walk) he did a complete 180. Where before he was getting better at just standing when cars went by, today he lied down! He lied down right in the road! He started freezing more often, and for longer. I had less treats than usual and decided that it was better to turn around and end the walk early than to keep trying to coax him and risk him shutting down, or undoing all the hard work we’ve made.