I learned something last week, thanks to an outgoing uncle who insisted that Silas would be able to handle him visiting my parents. I’m sure it’s nothing new, but it’s new to us. In my own mind I call it “making circles,” which is a non descriptive title if there ever was one. The point of making circles is familiarization with a scary object (in this case a person, which means it works wonderfully). Walk by scary object with Silas on leash. Allow whatever reaction happens to happen (that is, barking) and allow curious sniffs, but don’t linger. Make a circle large enough that Silas is calm on the far side. Repeat, until the reaction to the scary object is gone.
This works really well for us because Silas doesn’t like being surprised, but he does usually like the thing doing the surprising. That is, Silas likes people just fine, once he gets over them doing whatever weird thing set him off, and most of the other things that worry him are, in fact, completely non-threatening. A big box, for instance, or something that made a weird sound when his toy hit it. Walking away gives him time to turn his brain back on and realize that.
Thing two: we’ve upped the training ante a little. Miraculously, two fairly intense weeks of counterconditioning plus one week away from home really took the edge off of Silas’s barking out the window. I can’t keep up such a high level of food-based counter conditioning, though. That volume of treats, even of the best, healthiest things I could make or acquire, was too much for his delicate stomach. Now that he isn’t so paranoid, though, I’ve got a new plan. First, I’ll definitely keep up the counterconditioning for the major triggers–if I can hear a group of people talking out front or the gate opening, the treats will be coming. I’m calming down the random anxiety barking with play or other distractions. Secondly, I am thumbing my nose at the evil HOA lady and taking Silas out front more. She may not like it, but as long as he’s on the sidewalk she has no way of knowing that we aren’t on our way out the gate. My hope is that he’ll realize how very un-scary those things he barks at really are. If not that, which probably isn’t a leap dog brains can really make, he’ll at least get out more and see more of the world from a place where he’s pretty comfortable.