Training Focus on: People & No Dogs
So Proximity to People (Without dogs):
I swore when I got Chester that I would never leave him in a Kennels ever! Maisy can't stand them and to be truly honest I don't trust them.
But back in January 2019, my Uncle died, he lived in Berkshire so we had to travel down. It was so last minute, our normal home boarder (who Chester loves) wasn't available. We had no choice but to find somewhere that could take them both just for the day. Unfortunately the best I could do was some luxury boarding kennels. They had assured me they weren't that busy with maybe only 3/4 dogs staying so they would be comfortable. No dreaded 1000 dogs barking at once environment they so hate.
I massively regret it now. And I can clearly see, it was the start of his problem with people. Up to that point he wasn't fearful at all, maybe slightly wary but with encouragement or a nice tone he was easy to win over. I don't know what happened at the kennels and never will. But I will get him through it.
So I thought this post would focus on the techniques i've used to work through this particular issue with Chester:
The 1 to 10 Scale of Stress
The U Turn Positive Reinforcement
Before I even started any full on training I made up a 1 to 10 stress scale for Chester looking at all his behaviour from happy to anxious. This is similar to a list, a CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) therapist would ask you to do to recognise anxious tendencies.
Then I could alway refer to it while training, this was more so I didn't push him too much.
The U Turn as I like to call it, is basically the same technique that has been around for ages. (changing to a different direction if there is distraction that might be tough for him). I picked up this technique from a puppy school related to pulling on the lead, and transferred it to this problem.
I used it (U-Turn) in a stepped action (When Training)
1Take him into a situation with lots of people
2. Walk around without engaging with anyone
3. Let someone approach from a distance
4. Gauge his response if I feel he is 6 or above a will use the U-Turn
5. Repeat until he is at a 3 or below.
This has been invaluable to use, as it stops Chester getting so worked up that he no longer listens (my biggest frustration). Although walking past lots of people is 1000 times better than it was, it is still a tool i would use if he showed signs he was uncomfortable.
Obviously I would only ever use positive reinforcement, I have struggled with this for a long time, with rewarding at the right time, as there can be super quick changes in his behaviour rewarding at the wrong time, would have a negative impact. I have done this a few times and had to kick myself and start again.
Flooding is another psychological technique that I have taken and converted for dog use. With flooding, Chester is unable to avoid (negatively reinforce) his phobia and through continuous exposure, his anxiety levels should decrease.
For Chester this was used at Dog Fest! I obviously knew he would be fine with the 100's of dogs there but I also knew there would be Children (Fear), People without dogs (Fear), and people touching him without asking (Fear). To me this would either be a really great achievement for him or the point we may have to seek professional training.
I would never have tried this if i thought he would fail. (I do however doubt myself far too much). My gut told me this would be good for him.
And I wasn't wrong, he was amazing. People touched him, Children touched him, Children screamed, people without dogs spoke to him and he took them all in his stride.
Since DogFest his training has come on leaps!
Thank you for reading
Sarah and Chester x