Archie and I finally got our long awaited appointment with dog trainer Linnea, and we have loads of new things to practice together. There are going to be some changes at home!
Archie welcomed her (as he does all strangers) by barking furiously, but Linnea took no nonsense, put him on a lead and calmly ignored him. He soon gave up and lay quietly while we talked through his history and issues. I was surprised that she thought some of his behaviour at home was less to do with anxiety and more about bossiness. I’ve definitely seen this in his behaviour with Benji and even Hector, so it does make sense. I’ve probably indulged him because I felt sorry for him too, when actually sometimes he’s just being a bit rude and needs to be told off!
I was also surprised when she explained that we needed to be better bonded, as I think we are, but it’s true that he doesn’t listen to me as much as he should. We worked through a series of exercises designed to get him to look at me and ‘check in’ to get permission before taking some food – putting treats in my hands, and even on the floor in front of him, that he can only get by looking into my eyes to ‘ask permission’. I was stunned that he didn’t just gobble them up, but he learned quickly to ask first. We worked on other aspects of impulse control, getting him to stay in his bed when I leave the room, or even when there’s a knock on the door (that last one was tough for Archie); and to be polite and not steal food, even when it’s at dog level.
Some of these exercises he found tougher than others, but we have lots to practice. The point is to increase our communication, so that when we’re outside he listens better and freaks out less.
We also spoke about his separation issues, which Linnea thought might be more about frustration at being left behind that true anxiety (since he seems fine to be left home alone after daycare, and isn’t tearing anything up, having accidents, or displaying any of the other symptoms). She urged me to ask my neighbours about whether he barked the whole time I was gone, but I’m not brave enough to incite complaints! I did use a dog monitor app to check on him today while I went for a run. After squeaking and barking for 5-10 minutes after I left he was silent, and apparently asleep, for the rest of the 30 mins that I was out for a run. So it sounds as though she’s right. I’ll monitor him a few more times, but if that’s his pattern it’s a huge relief (since separation anxiety seems like a difficult issues to resolve), and hopefully we can gradually eliminate the initial stress of departure too.
Then we went for a walk. Linnea showed me how to make a ‘haltie’ out of his lead, that goes over his nose and makes it much, much easier to control him on the walk. Such a great tip, and a lot easier than a fancy harness. Archie wasn’t a huge fan, but hopefully he’ll get used to it. I definitely found it a huge improvement.
We then focused on keep the lead super short and keeping Archie calm and relaxed (as much as possible) and walking closely beside me. The key is catching him before he (literally) spins into a panic, including by getting him to sit, focus on me and take a treat when he’s feeling stressed. He was still really anxious, but it was certainly the calmest walk that I’ve ever had with him, no crazy pulling on the lead. We’ve been for two walks since trying to put everything into practice and he’s doing so well. At the moment it means his walks are all about training, and less about exercise (since he can’t get off the lead to run around) although all the mental energy still seems to wear him out.
So, loads for us to work on, but I can already see some changes. It would be wonderful to get him to the point where he’s relaxed around people (even if he never loves strangers), and can behave well enough to get off the lead in the park and calmly enjoy coffee shops and pubs without being on edge all the time.
We have follow up sessions over the next year so we’ll see how we get on.