Thursday, October 14, 2010

behavior consult

Oreo and I had our consultation with the veterinary behaviorist this week.

We met with the doctor and a veterinary behavior technician for almost two hours.

Oreo put on a good show, and hid under my chair most of the appointment! OK, I dragged him out at one point, and then he ran and hid under the doctor's chair.

More than half the appointment involved the vet gathering background information, and me racking my brain. Talk about stressful!

Her summation...Oreo's problems are developmental. She feels Oreo's issues would have surfaced no matter what I did. I guess I can feel good that I didn't mess him up.

However, she determined that I have been rewarding Oreo way too much, for doing far too little. Basically, I give him treats for doing nothing! She's right, I do. In the waiting room & exam room, I had been doling him treats, while he was hiding under the chair. That has to stop, along with any coaxing.

My three main concerns, I wanted to address immediately, were Oreo panicking in parking lots/new places(where he freezes in his tracks or tries to escape), ring stress, and freaking out over the neighbor's kids.

Here is our homework for phase one. This is the abbreviated version.

1. Parking lots/other freeze zones - Teach Oreo a moving commands (similar to heel, as well as sending to targets) for when he freezes in parking lots. If he doesn't respond to the simple moving command, I'm not to coax/bribe him. I am to gently pull to get him started, or resort to picking him up, until his behavior improves. We will start working in low stress areas first.

2. Ring stress- in class have one person act as judge / ring crew. Do that section repeatedly (4-5 times). Then move the person to another section/obstacle. Repeat. She would also like to see me work on a start line stay in training. She believes it would help build Oreo's confidence, and teach him that I'm there to keep him safe. Of course, I will have to start with a short stay, and a very short distance.

3. Kids- bring Oreo in yard on leash only. Do RP techniques at closest distance possible, then bring him inside. If kids come out suddenly, I'm to call him, put on leash, help settle and bring him inside.

Overall, she wants me to set higher expectations for Oreo.

Some of this is a little out of my comfort zone, but the doctor gave me rational answers for each step in the plan (the real plan has 8 parts). For now, I am going to trust her expertise, because I know there is science to back up her plan. Plus, I can still do everything in a positive manner with my clicker/toys, which is of utmost importance to me.

We've started working on some parts of the plan, and already, Oreo is showing me he is capable of more that I thought.

As for medication, we are going without for now. However, the doctor did indicate that Oreo was definitely a dog one could justify using meds. Clearly, the dog hiding under the chair needs help. She is opting for behavior techniques first, to at least establish a baseline, and then we will revisit medication options if needed (we have three months of phone/email consults).

It was really interesting to have a highly educated outsider analyze my dog and the countless techniques I've tried. Having all the methods you read about in books, finally laid down in concrete ways that apply to YOUR life ~ priceless. She wasn't afraid to tell me what I was doing wrong for MY dog, plus she's still going to keep helping us as we plod through this process. There are no overnight fixes or magic pills. I'll keep everyone posted.


verobirdie said...

It is interesting for a dog-owner to be (in a far future) what kind of issues you may have, and to follow how it will evolve. Thank you for sharing this. I hope Oreo will benefit from all this.
I thought only my old cat would trick people into believing she can't do things, but I see dogs can do that too :-)

Diana said...

Sounds like a good plan. But just so you know. When I take Miley to rehab, she hides under the chair. I have to pull her out to get the ultrasound treatment started. Shelties! Diana

Ricky the Sheltie said...

Sounds like you got tons of great information from your session! I will be so interested to see how Oreo does. Teaching a moving command is a fantastic idea!

One question - what does it mean that Oreo's problems are "developmental"?

Jules said...

I hope you see a lot of progress. It sounds like it was an interesting appointment.

Marie said...

Sounds like a very reasonable plan. I'm really happy to hear that she is recommending the behavioral portion of the recommendation first. I think she's right. It does give you a good baseline.

I hope all goes well, I do understand about it taking you out of your own comfort zone in putting some of the suggestions into practice, but I think it will be worth it. :-)

Patti and DeBoys said...

Interesting appointment for sure! We, too, want to know what she meant by "developmental" problems?

Well on the lighter side, look at all the training challenge material you have to work with :). Looking forward to watching Oreo concur the task like a pro.

Kathy said...

SOUNDS FANTASTIC!!!! Isnt it interesting because with Lizzie I had come to some of the same conclusions, her stress shows up in very different ways but I think it comes down to very similar areas they have trouble with, it is hard to not start lowering expectations and handling things more for them in an attempt to help them handle very real stress, we should start a support group ;-) That is neat you have the phone/email consults to follow this, you guys are going to ROCK, you are a pretty determined mom when it comes to Oreo, and such a knowledgable trainer, I am sure the new plan is going to really result in some great progress!!!

AC said...

Interesting stuff. Her recommendations make me nervous, but it sounds like you're already seeing good things.

It's interesting to compare your list to what Roxanne (from Champion of My Heart) got for her fearful dog last year. Her vet/behaviorist told her to stop the operant conditioning and not to return to classes until she did much more groundwork. In many ways, you seemed to have been prescribed the exact opposite. Not saying that one way is right. It just goes to show that two people, even with the same title, can approach things totally differently.

So much of this fearful dog business is learn, try, evaluate, make a new plan. Do keep us posted!

Rob said...

This to me is very interesting as I like to learn why dogs do things and also learn what we sometimes do without knowing it that causes them problems. I will be watching for the updates with great interest Sara.

Priscilla said...

Wow. Sounds like the behaviorist was very inspirational.
Must be great for you recently to have had so much feedback on Oreo's stress and nervousness.
I hope the doctor's advice helps!

Sara said...

I think what she meant was that they weren't caused by a single incident, or anything I specifically exposed him or didn't expose him to. I was concerned that his fear of people was due to the fact that I had isolated him for several months after he was attacked by the two dogs. She felt these behaviors would have developed regardless.


Yes, this is the exact opposite. I think these doctors really look at each dog as an individual, and prescribe accordingly.

Ricky the Sheltie said...

So these issues are just part of who Oreo is and were not created by you or his environment - that makes sense. I think it has a lot to do with what shelties were bred for - alerting the shepherd to anything and everything they saw or heard. That can make for dogs who are so hyper-aware that the slightest thing makes them go - "hey wait a minute, is that ok"? or "Warning, warning Will Robinson!" (LOL) Tough to counter behavior that is so innate.

Sara said...

Yes, I agree completely!

She told me Oreo will always have to cope with anxiety, but we can work toward making him feel safer in the world.

Kathy said...

I think with how Oreo looks to you so well, and how he trusts you SOOO much, I would bet that you will really be able to help him feel more safe in the know the bond you have with him and his trust is remarkable....I tell you I never knew my Skyler the shelties dad, but after working with him on his fears for a long time I found out who his dad was and all be, he had a lot of my boys fears too--Oreo is doing very well and has done some amazing things because of you and his fears are just part of him, but how lucky he is to have someone that is going to such lengths to help him cope with it all the best he can! You should really be proud of yourself and proud of Oreo who is always willing to keep learning and trying!

Sara said...

Thanks for all your support Kathy.It means a lot to me.

Nicki said...

Sounds like a good visit. I wonder what his parents or littermates are like? Are they shy and nervous too?

Sara said...

I'm not sure about his littermates, but Oreo's parents didn't seem shy, from the brief moment I spent with them. It would be interesting to see how the other two dogs from the litter turned out.

Honey the Great Dane said...

This is so interesting! I hope you make good progress with her suggestions - they sound very good to me.

This is especially interesting to me coz I'd always been told that if you reward a dog with attention (eg. reassurance, coaxing, treats) when they are showing nervous, fearful behaviour, this just makes them worse - coz it reinforces that behaviour. But recently I'd been told that that is a myth - and that you can't reinforce fear. It's all a bit confusing coz I've met countless people who've told me that their nervous dogs improved when they stopped trying to reassure them or comfort them with excessive attention - and it's been my experience too with Honey that when she is scared of something (like a lot of Danes, she get easily frightened by stupid things and if I don't nip it in the bud, it can quickly develop into a phobia) - I find that if I keep coaxing her to do it, she seems to get worse - more fearful - whereas if I just get a bit more "tough love" - expect more from her - like your behaviourist suggested - then she actually does better.

Anyway, would be interesting to hear how you get on and how Oreo changes.