Five Week Behaviorist Follow Up

We had our follow-up appointment with the behaviorist on Tuesday. Good stuff.

The follow-up appointments are one-part talking about what’s been going on and improving, and two parts really focused private dog-traning class. Today we did mat work and leash walking.

The mat work was hilarious. Silas had only been in the room a few minutes when we started, so he really wasn’t inclined to settle down. I’d get him to relax, then he would pop back up. Relax, pop-up. Repeat. The behaviorist warned me to be extremely careful with that behavior–a smart dog like Silas, she cautioned, will learn that leaving the mat, then coming back, is a quicker way to get a cookie than hanging out on the mat while you count to five. So, when he comes back, you have to make sure to wait the same amount of time you were going to wait anyway.

The leash walking was probably the most effective training session I’ve ever done. We were walking along the side of the building, away from the road but at the edge of the parking lot. Parking lots are hard for him, but not as impossible as the road. We’ve worked up now where he doesn’t have to sprint through them at top speed just to leave the park. Silas was being himself and wouldn’t eat. I got his frisbee, and he wouldn’t look at it. Everyone I’ve ever worked with has thrown up their hands at this point. “Well, he’ll get better. Just keep at it.” The behaviorist told me to pet him for being good, but he wasn’t really that aware of what I was trying to do. So finally she told me to just crouch down next to him on the sidewalk, make him a little “safety cocoon” up against my body and pet him for a five or ten seconds. A reward that he loved, and that made him actively feel better. A few repetitions of that, and he was not only walking better, but he was also comfortable enough to take the much-easier-on-the-knees cookies.

As a side note, I know most people don’t need a veterinary behaviorist to teach their dog how to walk on a leash. Honestly, neither do I. In a familiar environment, Silas is pretty good on-leash. His first instinct in a moment of panic, though, is to bolt. He is strong. He pulled my mother, who is not a small person, off her feet one day. There are times that I only keep him from getting away because I can run with him until I get him back under control. We’re trying to teach him that walking with me is the safest thing and that I will turn him away from anything bad.

As for the other stuff–apparently not barking when their owners are away is extremely common with dogs like Silas. She blames it on general dog-ness and a reward history (probably unconscious) on behalf of the owner. She was hopeful that the car thing means he’s more “fixable” than we might have guessed based on his original behavior.

Homework: more mat work, more walking, more trips to the park.

12 thoughts on “Five Week Behaviorist Follow Up

  1. We are also working in making our dogs wait for a reward too. In a hunt test situation, we are making them wait for the retrieve rather than sending them right away. It is interesting how just that small change of slowing down makes a difference.


    1. One of Susan Garrett’s big things is that *every* behavior is a duration behavior. You don’t have a “sit stay;” your dog just knows to sit until you tell him to get up. I find it to be pretty handy, so we’re working on adding it to a lot of the behaviors Silas already knew. It’s just important to not let your expectations get ahead of your dog–we were struggling to get a five second behavior duration in her office for something that he would probably hold at home while I walked out of the room and got a soda.


      1. True dogs are situational. What works at home may not be as solid elsewhere. We found that out with Freighter last hunt test. Put gunshots and ducks in the picture, obedience out the window.


  2. This is great! Impressed both with your diligence and Silas’s persistence. Keep it up; he is lucky to have you in his life, and the rest of us are inspired by your example!


    1. Oh, thank you very much! Day to day we’re very lazy. I’m *dreading* mat work, because she wants us to work up to Karen Overall’s relaxation protocol. AKA the most tedious dog training exercise of all time.


  3. I’m so impressed with the behaviorist! She’s really thorough and seems to have all sorts of tricks up her sleeve in training for dogs like Silas. Good for you both for continuing to work with him!


    1. She’s amazingly good. She also sends me post-visit reports so detailed that I wonder if I’m on secret camera.

      I think we’re honestly some of her easier clients based on a few things she’s said. I’d hate to see what else she deals with. Silas isn’t even on any daily medication. He just doesn’t really think like a regular dog. The best advice I’ve gotten from her has just been out-of-the-box thinking about dog behavior.


  4. Don’t ever apologize for seeking expert help to solve a problem…You’ve done remarkable work with Silad on your own but when you hit a wall the smart move was to find someone with alternative solutions and it sounds like you’ve found just the right person…Excellent!


  5. I love the suggestion from the behaviorist about crouching down to pet him when he’s too scared to take treats. I would have never thought of it, but what a good idea, and reinforces safety for him, so he can calm enough to get back below his threshhold and learn again (I can’t tell you how annoyed I get with the whole “don’t ever ‘comfort’ your scared dog or you’re telling it is right to be scared” thing. Sometimes I suppose that might be true, but often I think part of what we are there to do is reassure our frightened dogs that they are safe and that we are there with them so they can get past what scares them. This seems like a good way of reassuring him and still working with him.)


    1. At this point, I’m mostly going to see her because she can think outside of the cookie box. After the initial intake, her rates are pretty on par with good private obedience lessons.

      The behaviorist and I butt heads a little over the fear/comfort thing–she agrees that you can’t reinforce actual fear, but she’s pretty firm about the fact that you can absolutely reinforce things like barking and cowering. I’ve always read that dogs aren’t very good at “fake” emotions, so don’t worry about accidentally reinforcing those things.

      When it comes to the nuts and bolts of the training, though, we generally agree. She’s always looking either for an action solution (like teaching the dog a great turn on leash so that you can walk away from a scary thing without having to drag the dog), or for ways to generally improve the dog’s confidence level with things like puzzle toys, long line walks, etc.

      I’d be interested to see what she recommends for a more conventional-loooking fear, like a dog who cowers when you reach for them. Most of what Silas does these days is in such specific contexts that the action training works pretty well.


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