We love sharing success stories with you! Let's take a look at Finn - a Potcake who came to us in 2015 after being adopted by two active, fantastic humans. Finn is a rescue dog who was showing signs of reactivity toward people and some dogs. We worked together for seven private lessons where we used good ol' science to change his emotional response.
How do we do this? Through simple classical counter conditioning. Every time Finn sees a trigger (a dog or a person), chicken meatballs follow, regardless of his reaction. We always do this while Finn is "under threshold", which means he's ideally not reacting, but is simply aware of the trigger. Once he starts to put two and two together and realizes that his triggers now predicts fantastic things like chicken meatballs, we can play with distance and gradually get a little closer and closer.
We work on changing his emotional response, but we can't forget that there are behaviours we don't want anymore - barking, lunging, snapping, biting. Who wants that? Nobody! But we don't want to suppress these emotional responses, we want to replace them with stuff we like. What do we like? Eye contact, sitting, shaking a paw, dancing, you name it. Anything we might consider socially acceptable and safe. So we spend some time teaching what we call "alternate behaviours" to full fluency so he can perform them stress-free even in the face of a trigger.
We make progress in each session and we are so proud of all the hard work Finn's parents are putting in, as well as his bravery! Then, the phone call comes in. Finn's grandparents are adopting a puppy and they will inevitably be spending some time together at family get-togethers, holidays, and the cottage. The good news? She's a girl. (Whenever adopting a second dog, the safest bet is to adopt the opposite gender in order avoid same-sex conflict which can be quite common with dogs).
Because puppies can be especially delicate in their early weeks, we want to avoid any potential trauma, so we avoid contact until she is at least 16 weeks of age, and even then, it must be very controlled and safe. So we suggest that Molly takes well-run puppy classes in order to get her "behavioural vaccine" and have lots of good, positive interactions with dogs, and in the meantime, we work on sprucing up all of Finn's fabulous behaviours and muzzle training.
Working with a safe decoy dog, Finn perfected his "look at that" game and making good choices by choosing to flee rather than fight, while gradually getting closer and closer to the decoy dog but only when Finn was comfortable enough. He was free to leave any time. He also worked hard on "relaxation", which isn't too hard for a dog like Finn, who I always joke is on "island time" - never in a rush to get anywhere.
Once Molly hits a "safe" age, we get to work. Mirkka meets Finn and his family, as well as his grandparents and new pup Molly in a large, open field. Both dogs are equipped with long lines and Finn is happily sporting his basket muzzle. All the work they've done has paid off tenfold.
As you'll see in this video, Molly and Finn and loose, wiggly and respecting each other's space. The long lines are dragging for safety, and there's a lot of verbal praise for both dogs each time they interact appropriately.
Here are the two best friends over the holidays - enjoying their quality time together and making us proud. Who doesn't love a good game of biteyface?!
This story makes us proud every day. After a lot of dedication, hard work, not "getting greedy" as we say, going too far too fast, rewarding good behaviour and replacing undesired behaviours, putting safety first, learning to read your dog's body language, and seeking the help of qualified professionals, this is what Finn's family ended up with!
We know that not every story is guaranteed to have this ending, but here's one of many stories that show that it's possible. This was a dog with a spotty past, a bite history, seven private lessons, our full Cranky Canine reactive dog program, and then a series of safe introductions. He's hit the jackpot with this home - that much I can tell you. Well done, Finn and family!