Fear behavior and training

More videos today! A picture says a thousand words, and a video… well, it says a lot more.

Riley is a lab mix with a lot of fear behaviors. She’s a little timid in the first place, so her owner (Doris) and I do a lot to make sure her confidence stays high, and she meets new (scary) things in positive situations. I first introduced Riley to her new backpack a couple of days before this video was taken. It took about 20 minutes to get her calm around it, to see that it was no big deal. I did all of the same things you’ll see in the video, just at tinier increments. (So instead of flopping it on her shoulder, I started flopping it on the floor, then her leg, then up her body to her shoulder.)

This is the second time Riley has had her backpack on, and I videoed it for Doris so she could see what I’d done. Doris is kind enough to let me show the video to everyone!

A few things to note: in the first video, her body language is anxious. She’s willing to try, but she’s very nervous. You can see this in the way her tail and lower back are pinched (spine is stiff = negative emotional state). I move forward anyway. If she’s willing to try, then I know that it’s just a matter of time before she’s comfortable. I move forward, because if I introduce a slightly harder thing, then that anxiety-provoking thing of a moment before becomes easy. If a dog starts retreating, you know you pushed too fast, and you just back off to where they’re comfortable again and give them more time. Dogs are excellent communicators: they’ll tell you when it’s too much!

Around the 2:30 mark, I say, “I’m pulling it off in the most obnoxious way possible.” This goes back to the idea that I don’t want to be careful about anything, because the backpack isn’t going to be careful about not catching on stuff or, if a strap breaks, falling off. So I want the most obnoxious thing possible to happen in a controlled setting so she sees it’s not scary.

At the 2:44 mark she puts herself in her crate, and I talk about this a little bit. I wait for her to come to me again because she’s been willing to try. If she were to say she’s going to put herself in her crate and not try at all, I would bring her (i.e., drag her if I had to) slightly closer, and then praise her for it. If she’s willing to try, I’m willing to give her space. If she’s not willing to try, I’m going to tell her she has to try just one step, and then praise. That way, she’ll figure out that bravery is rewarded.

At the 3:50 mark you’ll notice I can’t get the backpack hooked before she walks away. I stop trying, because restraining her is more stressful than the backpack falling. Why? Well, we’ve worked on the backpack falling! That’s not scary anymore, and I want her to know she can retreat if she needs to.

Got all that? Great! Onto the video!

Now, when we came back from our walk we did a minor version, for reasons I explain in this second video. I also did it in a different way: I stood up. Note that her tail and lower back are no longer pinched: after a 50 minute walk, all that worry about new stuff was gone. She’d had time to get accustomed to it!

(As an aside: I do not recommend prong collars for most dogs with fear and anxiety issues. Riley has one because she learned to walk perfectly without it so we don’t need to use it often, and it therefore doesn’t increase her anxiety. Believe me, we’ve kept a very close eye on how she’s reacting in general, and how she’s reacting to that! The prong collar is used specifically to help her petite mother keep her from jumping on people, which is the current issue we’re working on.)

There you go! Riley’s mom says: “Every time I go touch her backpack, she gets all excited.” Hooray!





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