No one is ever fully prepared for when reactivity comes into their dog’s life; the surge of energy always surprises the owner just as much as the dog. Seasoned trainers and behavioral councelors are no different. Yet there are things you can do, preferably with the aid of a trainer or counselor experienced in phobias, desensitization, and a complete lack of force/punishment training.
While Mudra seems to be in his element with living in Jersey City after a life in the countryside of Virginia, Bowie showed his houndyness on day two. Mudra is showing his own minor signs of understandable stress (we’ll go into that later), but Bowie has developed the tell-tale lunging for home behavior to the end of his walk, as well as wanting to bolt across the street, and generally being on the edge of his threshold during walk time. While inside definitely was a calmer place for him, we still had a telltale sign of his discomfort: Bowie refused to nap on the couch, which is prime realty to our houndie.
We’re on our second weekend now, and Bo’s ability to decrease his anxiety is right on schedule. Last night he climbed the couch and flopped bodily on Ian’s legs, and his tail has been wagging in the mornings before his walk.
Are the walks easier? Somewhat. So if his walks aren’t all better, how is he making progress?
Because reactivity can sometimes take a few weeks (or months), to work through depending on the animal. In the case of phobia in extreme cases, it can take longer.
Now in mornings Bowie heads out the front door and whines. He whines the whole walk. And we do not attempt to quiet him or shush him. We also don’t make concerned voices, anxious sounds, or anything too exciting in tone. Both Ian and I talk calmly in a relatively level fashion the entire walk.
Vocalization is the common step for most dogs that are finding their comfort zone, and if they’re not forming a nasty habit, they should be allowed to work through that necessary step of expression. Some dogs totally skip it (a qualified trainer or behavioral counselor knows how to identify this, and should be sought if your dog is showing repeated stress vocalizations). Due to Bowie’s genetics, disposition, and level of anxiety in adapting to the city, the behavior is expected.
He’s now past the tightly shut mouth and silent, wide eyed panting. His walking is typically much looser and relaxed, with what can seem like random bursts of anxiety or stress where he will whine louder, sit down quickly, or make a motion to weave about instead of walking mindfully. But are these behaviors actually random?
Not in the least.
It’s hard to inhibit stressful responses. Any animal that puts that much effort into trying to self soothe and keep their head on straight is going to have moments of panic. To try and force an animal to not feel any form of fear or stress is detrimental and typically causes more damaging behavior in the long run.
So how are we sure that this is helping our big brave Bowie out?
He’s happy to go for that walk. Tail wagging before we go, exhausted but calm when we return home (and right now his walk is only 4 blocks). At his checkpoints his body is loose despite whining, and he will lay down on his own in these places. When he does feel stressed, he typically stops moving at all or pulls off to the side, creating a natural break and an ability to think, instead of allowing his stress to overwhelm him. Allowing him to make better decisions.
He’s doing well, and he’ll continue to do even better as we progress if we maintain our patience and consistently stay within his threshold.