Good Dogs, Unleashed!

Spring is Here!
April 5, 2012, 4:38 pm
Filed under: Chomper, Miscellaneous, Training | Tags: , ,

Considering the last post I made was in September, I’m going to go with the excuse of “I was hibernating.” By hibernating I mean snuggling the dogs and my Kindle while drinking wine in front of the fireplace. Although realistically, it’s just me taking dozens of photos of the endlessly handsome Petesworth while Chomper hides under the bed. Her noise phobia gets the best of her and it’s difficult to desensitize her against the unpredictable popping of wood. Petey on the other hand, cannot get enough.

Petey enjoys his fireplace photoshoots almost as much as the fire itself.

The winter was super mild this year though, so we didn’t spend the whole time inside. Boyfriend and I got into geocaching in the fall and spent a good deal of time traipsing through the woods with one or both dogs in tow. For those who aren’t familiar, Geocaching is sort of like a world wide scavenger hunt where people hide small containers and everyone else looks for them. Containers always hold a log book for everyone to sign when they find the cache, but many are large enough to leave other little objects as calling cards or for trading. It’s easy and free and all you need is a hand held GPS unit or a smart phone. You can find way more info at One of the best parts about geocaching is that it has introduced us to all sorts of parks and other natural areas we had no idea were there. We spent the week between Christmas and New Years at the beach and found quite a few small, beautiful parks. It’s a really fun thing for us and the dogs get to go exploring in new places too, so they’re big fans.



A gorgeous park near Ocean City, Maryland.

We also moved into a new place and that was a huge pain, but it’s turning out to be a great training opportunity for Chomper. She’s been a neurotic mess since the day I got her and I’ve tried a million different training methods to work with her fear and anxiety. I have half a dozen different books on the subject, but none of the classic counter-conditioning or desensitization has ever worked for her. In the fall I purchased yet another book, Behavioral Adjustment Training (BAT) for Fear, Frustration and Aggression in Dogs. This book is in the process of changing Chomper’s life. Detailing exactly what BAT is will come in a later post, but for Chomper, BAT is rewarding her bravest behavior by increasing the distance between her an the thing she is afraid of. So, Chomper is afraid of children. When we’re on a walk and she notices a child, she has to make a decision between getting upset and ignoring the child. Normally, Chomper’s first reaction is to stiffen her entire body, raise her tail and freeze in place before lunging forward and whining then spinning around and repeating the lunge and whine. She’s doing this so that the child will go away. Normally, either the child gets totally freaked out and runs away, or I drag Chomper off in the other direction. Either way, Chomper is getting what she wants (distance from something scary) for doing a behavior that I don’t want (being fearful and defensive). WIth BAT, I wait for Chomper to notice her trigger (people, cats, dogs…) and wait for her to give any type of displacement behavior (relaxing her body language, turning away, sniffing the ground…). The second she provides a displacement behavior, I click and turn around and walk away from the trigger, thereby giving Chomper the distance that she wants, while slowly showing her what good behaviors she can offer to earn that distance. Like I said, it’s kind of a complicated idea to explain in a short paragraph, but the point is, it’s working fantastically.

We’ve only been trying the BAT for a little while now, but Chomper is finally starting to show some improvement with her behavior. In order to keep track of her positive strides and to help keep my moral up when things aren’t going well, I’ve decided to keep a list of things Chomper has not reacted to. So, yesterday, Chomper walked past the following things without reacting in a negative way:

  1. An elementary-aged kid tossing a baseball in the air about 20 yards away
  2. An older man sitting on his front porch with a yappy dog (I don’t think Chomp saw the dog but she definitely heard it) about 10 feet away
  3. Three teenagers tossing a football back and forth about 20 yards away
  4. Four elementary-aged kids coming directly toward us from about 20 feet away-this one was super hard for her, she still whined, but she also still turned away, so it counts
  5. A man sitting on the curb talking on the phone from about 15 yards away-this was another tough one, she tends to do worse with men than women

As you can see, I’m trying to be as specific as possible so that I can keep track of what is more difficult for her so that I can be prepared when those situations present themselves. So far so good. We’re even making progress with not reacting to everyone that passes by when Chomp is on the deck. Unless it’s a cat, in which case you can forget about it. I’ll do my best to keep updating the list of things she’s doing well with. Having a reactive dog is hard as hell, but seeing a positive change in her behavior feels amazing.