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Emotional Response

Last Year I was asked to take in a dog who was a "service dog" for a child.  It turned out the dog wasn't suited even for in home service work.  The way I was asked wasn't well done either.  I had said I couldn't take the dog, I wasn't set to take a large dog long term and I wasn't a rescue for every sad story.  A client and friend had been telling of the family and how they were on the edge of loosing the dog if something wasn't done, but I had no intention of becoming involved in a CPS case, especially one which involved a child death, and take a dog on for an undetermined amount of time when I had yet to meet the dog and didn't know if they dog would get along with my other dogs, especially Malcolm.

I had clearly said several times I didn't want the dog.  Please understand this.  I never said I would foster, care for or house this dog.  So, when I was woken on a Sunday and told they were waiting for me to see the dog at the park near my home and see if he got along with Malcolm and I was their last chance I was annoyed.  I arrived and they had the dog's crate on the vehicle and the dog was a bit rough and tumble with Malcolm when they met.  They then played for a while and FINALLY I agreed to TWO days with the dog.

I ended up with him for several days.  In that period of time he would attack Malcolm six times, nearly killing him, Max five times nearly killing him and prove to be inappropriate around children. He air snapped around children, attacked other dogs and the dog's anxiety was so palpable it as truly sad.

The emotional damage to Malcolm was long term.  He needed help trusting again that people leaning over me and him were not going to harm him.  That sudden changes in our environment were not the precursor to him being harmed. Though he showed no agression, he did become a bit vocal in his work.  He would speak a tad when out and it was that higher pitched "hey, you startled me" vocal sound that even the staff recognized as him being a bit worried.

What to do to prevent him from washing out?  Because I was also catching some under his breath grumbles too, and that was utterly unacceptable.  I was glad for him telling me he was uncomfortable and telling me WHEN, but what can I do to FIX the problem and change the underlying emotional issue and not have to wash an otherwise excellent partner who suffered a trauma?

Twice a week I went to physical therapy and they loved him dearly.  They were willing to put up with his vocal issues and his grumbles and work through the issues while we worked on the emotional problems underlying the cause.  The situation was very specific - he was friendly and excellent on entry, no problem working with people overall, unless they leaned and stayed leaning over me in a chair and/or they left us in a room and re-entered suddenly.  Got it.  I started carrying my treat pouch and anytime someone leaned over me I gave him a treat.  That fixed that issue quickly.  I then release him to great the person and gave him a second treat.

On the entry into the door, I had the person coming into the room carrying his ever favorite treat, dehydrated liver, and give it to him.  My standing rule of never having someone else treat my dog broke this time.  The physical therapists were wonderful.  They came in with their trays and a baggy of liver and would say Hi to Malcolm and give him a treat.  His mind did a double twist and in one visit he was turned around on that. He was looking for them to come in.  I noticed it made a difference almost immediately at other doctor appointments, he was waiting for the liver delivering people.  I had the liver on me there and when the doctor came in he looked up with happiness and I handed him liver and he was happy.  Success. The more we did this, the more he relaxed about people coming in while I was worked on.  The secretaries did the same and soon he was grumble free and happy to see anyone show up and it bled off to other appointments.

I made a change at my other appointments.  In my physical therapy I take his leash off, so I do the same at my doctor appointments.  He relaxes and settles right by me just the same.  I also ask they leave the door open a crack so he can hear what is happening outside the door.  They do and he's happy as a lark with it.  I then treat him for all of the people going by for right now.  I am slowly reducing the number of treats, but I am working on an emotional response change after a emotional trauma.  He used to be fantastic at doctors and then things changed, we are returning to normal.  For now, we are working on making things a happy place again at the doctors office and if that means a lot of treats and lots of praise, so be it.  It also means I don't wash out my dog.

The doctors are all commenting on how much calmer and happier he is with the changes.  It just takes finding the crux of the issue, the triggers and making the changes needed to make my dog more comfortable.

Mind you, he was never a "problem" to the staff.  He was to me.  I was embarrassed by his behavior.  I could tell he was a problem and long before he was a problem I wanted to fix what was developing. To do that, I had to pay attention to when he was reacting, then make a plan to resolve it to stop him practicing the behavior.

He attends all of my doctors appointments, so it is vital Malcolm have excellent behavior.  It took less than two weeks with the physical therapist to really get him understanding what I wanted there; it took taking my treat pouch and treating for sounds outside of the room, having the door open a crack and having him "check the door" for a bit (he would put his nose in the door crack) before he decided to just settle and relax (I always had him check the door when NOTHING was happening) and then just giving him treats for looking to the door at first, then at the end to looking to the door and then back to me and checking in.  Overall, it took a month to reset him, but the month was with no barking and grumbling and him totally enjoying the training and relaxing more and more.

I am so glad I did this - because it would pay off later in another situation.

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