Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Backwards: Even Trainers Have Problems Sometimes!

Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Backwards:  Even Trainers Have Problems Sometimes!

My blog posts updates have been far less than timely and for that, I profusely apologize. Life and clients intervene and exhaustion takes over but I will do my best to write more frequently for this platform. My last post was about Kenzo’s second ACL tear and how I would keep Mela, our newest addition sane during his recovery.

I am not sure that I succeeded as well as I could have I could. I cite work and life again, but it is my responsibility as a dog parent to keep my crew members sufficiently engaged. If engagement is less than stellar, I must take the blame for that. And indeed I will.

Let me elaborate. Several months ago, Mela started experiencing what I call frustration intolerance. How that manifested in her was in moments of extreme over-stimulation, she started to redirect on Kenzo by biting him in the cheek. Now that sounds worse than it is because for one, he weighs 175# to her 46# and for two, he has more fur on every part of him than most creatures alive. He just turned his head most of the time. All she got was a few snippets of fur in her mouth if that.

Side by side comparison

Kenzo and Mela enjoying the trail together

Of course, I interrupted this behavior. And in any situation that I could do so, I rearranged how I handled it to prevent this from happening at all. For example, when I allowed her and Trent to jump into the car first for a trip to the park, she was obnoxious to Kenzo when he entered after her. So now he goes to the car first and all is well. But on walks, when a critter was sighted or scented, it was less predictable at how stimulated she would be at any given sighting/scenting. The same could be said for mutual barking at the door when the mailman was doing his job.

Of course I know what I would advise my clients to do so I went to work. But it took far longer for me to work on this than I would have liked if I had been a client of mine. The cobbler’s kids and all. But also like I sometimes hear from clients, Mela is surprisingly unmotivated by food. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, I say it too. All dogs eat. Yes, they do but I have never seen a dog less interested in seriously high value food when they have a history of life on the streets of a rough part of town for a minimum of three weeks. You’d think she would think what I was offering her was the equivalent of a doggy smorgasbord. Not so much though. I hate to say it but Miss Mela is quite the diva.

Normally, I would create interest in food as a reward by charging the clicker to make that a valuable sound. Kenzo and Trent love the clicker. Yet the first time I tried it, Mela fled from the room and remained spooked for the balance of the evening. In fact, it took me nearly a month to get her to even take a treat in the kitchen again. I had to start practicing fun cues in the living room instead of the kitchen, in order to be able to cue a hand targeting behavior. She is again comfortable in the kitchen but it was a long road to get back there so I won’t be trying the clicker again just yet. And yes, I have tried all of the quieter clicker options such as a muffled I-click and a ball point pen. She is noise startled for what should be benign noises and fine with loud noises such as thunderstorms. Go figure!

I had hoped that when Kenzo was fully healed from his second TPLO surgery and the ensuing infection that followed in the other knee and a few other sensitive to bacteria body parts, that he would be interested in engaging in play again. But the over-stimulation assaults that Mela subjected him to, although not frequent, were enough to make him uninterested in returning to play with HER. A catch 22, when one is aware that one will make the other go away. But no amount of force can create a playful mood. Quite the contrary actually.

So I scheduled an appointment with my veterinarian to discuss behavior medication. We decided to put Mela on ten milligrams of fluoxetine. I saw enough of a change within the first day that I was hopeful that this would allow her to be at the right stimulation level so that I could work with her more successfully. That hope was dashed when she stopped eating everything four days into the meds. When I say everything, I mean EVERYTHING. The only things she consented to put into her body for five long days were a doggy ice cream cup and a dehydrated trachea. She skipped all but part of one meal. She turned down chunks of cooked chicken and her favorite treat of dehydrated liver. At only 46#, she could not afford to practice that kind of anorexia.

So I took her off the meds and asked my vet to switch the capsules to tablets so that I could try her at a dose of five milligrams instead. I am happy to say that she has been on that dose now for about three weeks and her appetite is good. Her stimulation level can be a bit more than I would like at times, but after being on the meds again for about two days, she was more consistently walking away from Kenzo when they were both sniffing something intense. Kenzo is now showing signs of interest in play.

Every evening after dinner, which is when they used to play, we go into the living room and the crew gets their after dinner goodies. That might be anything from doggy ice cream to a bully stick, beef tendon, trachea or dehydrated chicken foot! Kenzo then lays there for about ten minutes after he is sure that everyone is done and there won’t be any leftovers for him. Then he exits to lay in the short hallway that separates the living room from the kitchen. This past week, he has been coming back in after a short time laying in the hallway and looking engagingly at Mela.

She pawed him gently once, trying to ask for play. That gesture is far removed from her usual M.O., which is snarling (her version of play) and biting at him somewhere on his body. He did not return the gesture but did play with a toy briefly before leaving the room again. The next day or so, when he returned to the room and looked at her, she grabbed a toy and brought it to him, offering it to his face, with no snarking thankfully. He nudged it and then exited the room. Neither of those instances offended her. It’s obvious when she is offended, thankfully!

But we had a slight setback the other day. Mela, being the diva that she is, rarely consents to urinate in the yard. But this time, she did and Kenzo was crowding right behind her and being rude so that he could pee over her spot when she was done. I told him to move away but by the time I stood up from my spot on the porch, she was done and scooted away towards the steps. Then she turned around on a dime and headed straight back at him and laid into him forcefully! I had to scurry down barefoot and pull her off of him. Thankfully, Kenzo just turned his head. He went up the steps and stood by the door and grinned, appearing to realize that he had it coming for being intrusive! There were no play gestures that night but interactions since then have been great.

In conclusion, for now, I believe that there is a light at the end of this tunnel. I will continue to try and recapture the bond that these two had so that they can have a better relationship with one another again. And I will continue to help Mela make better choices when she is over-stimulated about something, as well as to reintroduce some sort of marker sound aside from a verbal one, so that her brain can be more easily reached in times of higher excitement.

Fell free to share your own story in the spaces below.

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  1. Nazlee June 12, 2017

    Hi there. I’m having huge problems with two of my dogs. I have four. The newest introduction to our family is an older male mixed breed dog we rescued off the streets, spent months gaining his trust and making him feel loved and at home and now that he’s secure and part of the family, he’s showing extreme aggression to my male German Shepherd who is around 20 months old, much larger in size, but has recently been traumatised by what we suspect is the neighbour’s gardener (must’ve thrown something at him for barking, we suspect) and is now showing signs of extreme fear for every sound. My GSD stays close to me at all times now, not wanting to go outside at all and when he does, he’s nervous, afraid, cries to come inside to the point of hearing a noise from next door (like the dustbin or garage door etc) and jumps through the kitchen window to get inside the house. He only feels safe and calm inside the house now and the older male (been with us for around one year now) has started serious fights with my GSD, resulting in open wounds to himself (my GSD, although scared, defends himself and bites back and has very thick fur which protects him). Also, my GSD is huge and physically strong compared to the older mixed breed dog, yet the older one keeps attacking him every time he comes close to him. As a result I keep them seperated in different parts of the grounds, i.e one in the front garden and the other one in the back and mostly inside as I said. I’m going crazy trying to deal with all of these issues, i.e trying to create a sense of security for my GSD by making him feel safe inside the home, when the older one keeps attacking him on home ground, creating an unsafe environment. What do you recommend I do?

  2. Debby McMullen June 12, 2017

    I cannot help you via this venue. You need in home professional assistance. If you can provide a zip code where you are located at, I can find you someone qualified. This needs professional addressed asap. Thanks for rescuing that dog but please help me help you.

  3. Amy Itschner October 22, 2017

    I have similar issues. I hired a trainer, but he seems unwilling to do anything by video, etc and my fearful dog won’t let him approach (not human aggressive, just hides in a corner). I looked for a behaviorist, but couldn’t find anyone in my area. My zip is 61603.

  4. Debby McMullen October 23, 2017

    Hi Amy, I found this person who appears to be well qualified but not right next door to you. It wouldn’t hurt to see if he comes out your way.

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