Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Rough Times, Part 2.. Still on the Mend

A month ago, I posted about the rough times we were going through with Marge's behavior.

Well, some things are better, and some aren't.


Agility yesterday was just about the best she's been since the first weeks of class. She flew at Tang, the instructor's GSD once at the beginning of class when Tang was running jumps really close to Marge, but she snapped out of it quickly and came right back. I put her in a down and she watched the rest of Tang's sequencing like a calm spectator. The JRT was not present (and may not be at all anymore) so this may have contributed to her good behavior.

A scuffle broke out between the Staffy (who Marge REALLY doesn't like) and the Border Collie, and Marge barely batted an eye at them, which earned her a hot-dog jackpot.

She only interacted with Maddie, a small cocker mix.  Seemed to have an attitude of toleration rather than sociability most of the time, which was odd for her.  (Then again, little Maddie kept trying to jump up on her, and Marge did not get snarky, so I suppose that's a good thing.)  I'm pretty sure I caught her in half a play bow at one point.  She butt-sniffed Marisa's (the teacher) Japanese Chin and GSD, but neither paid her any mind.  And that was it on the dog front.

From an Agility point of view, we didn't do much, it was hot, there were people all over the place with dogs, so I didn't want to push it.  We're starting the next session next week.


In terms of my dad.. Marge has been iffy, I guess.  She's very privvy to getting treats and walks from him, but doesn't want to be handled.  In the car, though (and this isn't a new occurrence), she sits right next to him and accepts pets in a very aloof (not fearful) sort of way.

The amount of conditioning we have been doing is extensive.  Any time the front door starts to open, we hurriedly shoot treats into Marge's mouth.  It works, it really does.  Many times she'll come to us if we call her if someone's coming in, because she's expecting the treats.

We're far from the end of this, though.. she was playing with a treat dispensing toy last night, heard someone come in, and gave a grunty sort of growl, even though she did not yet see that it was my father (she was locked in the basement with us).  I passed it off to him by saying, "Oh, she's just playing with her toy" when he asked, but, really, it indicates to me that she still has to be behind a barrier and NOT on the basement stairs when we're expecting him home.

She has shown promise, though.. she saw him come in a couple of times and had no reaction.  She also saw the mailman outside the door putting things in the box, and had no reaction either.  That earned her lots of cookies. 


I am sad to say, though, that the fence issue and/or fear barking doesn't seem to be resolved.  I have been absolutely religious in keeping her away from what I am pretty sure are her triggers, but we had a mishap today.

One of the men that Marge originally bugged out over near the fence was walking on the opposite side of the street today.  I was sitting on my front steps with Marge, waved to him.  She wouldn't take her eyes off of him.. I was out of treats and underestimated her tension, I guess.  He gets across the street, NOT in front of our house (maybe 30 feet down), may have said something to us (can't remember) and she flipped out.. barking, growling, hackles raised, the whole bit.  It may have been just a coincidence, but she started all that as he walked by the fence where all of this stuff started.

I was taken by surprise, so I body blocked, moved her back so that she couldn't see anything, and put her in a down.

I'm wondering if she just plain doesn't like this guy. Is that possible?  Is there ever a time where a dog is social except towards select individuals?  I know it'd be a fear-based dislike... but I'm wondering if just because it happened with him doesn't mean it will necessarily happen with other people.  She has seen other people go by this spot and did not have as intense of a reaction.  Her reactions have probably been the most intense towards this guy out of any others.

Then again, if I had treats on me, probably nothing would have happened.


Lastly, Marge might be developing a new issue.. anxiety when I am gone.  I'm hesitant to use the word "separation," because, to me, separation anxiety is a severe condition that needs a lot of maintenance.  That is not what this is.  She is not being destructive or mutilating herself or anything drastic like that. (thank God..)

My family members have reported to me about Marge whining, pacing, and panting while I am gone.  She IS distracted by treats, though, so that is a promising sign.  I have been leaving her stuffed Kongs many times before departing.  I actually plan to pick up another Kong, so I can alternate one in the freezer, one being used.

Part of the problem, I think, is that I offer structure and novelty when I'm with Marge.  I feed her out of treat dispensers, I switch between agility and rally training, and we go for walks to different places at different times. Her day is, usually, broken up into little parts.

My sister is having a hard time mimicking any of these.  Either she doesn't want to, or doesn't know how/what to do.  Admittedly, she can't do a lot of the Rally and Agility stuff that I do, but I'm sure there's something she can do.

I have been ignoring Marge before leaving and when coming home.  When no one is home, Marge sleeps on the couch and, as far as I know, is not anxious.  This is only when other people are home... my sister, I think, more than anyone.

All I know is Marge has been following me like a shadow, and I'm just a tiny bit concerned about it.


So, yeah, that's where we stand right now.  I guess I have a lot more work to do.  I might look into the Bach Flower Remedies for intermittent use.. maybe it can give me some help with the behavior modification.


Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart June 24, 2009 at 4:17 PM  

Knowing and avoiding the full-blown triggers is a great start. The next step is to retrain and recondition pieces of the trigger, until you work up to the full trigger. Her response to them likely will not go away from straight avoidance. You have to teach each piece separately.

When the trigger just happens like the GSD running or the guy on the road, move Marge away until she can focus. I fear that having her stay put, going into a down, is just solidifying the response. She's doing what you ask (sort of), but I'd bet she feels stuck, which is a bad spot for a fearful dog.

Sam June 24, 2009 at 5:21 PM  

Yep.. there's no doubt I handled the situation with the guy on the street the wrong way. The whole thing was just messy.. I reacted without thinking and just did whatever came to mind first. The guy was already gone when I asked her to down, but regardless, I should've handled it differently. I blame the whole thing on poor management my me.

I don't think the response to the GSD was a fearful one, but I could be wrong. I just feel like these agility dog reactions are so different from the ones towards people, that it's more of a drivey thing than anything. Either way, I guess it's not a good idea to ask for a down.. I don't want to associate 'down' with something negative.

PoochesForPeace June 25, 2009 at 1:22 AM  

Sorry to hear you're having troubles! I'm definately no expert but I've heard of some dogs not liking people for whatever reason. A coworker of mine had a dog who was social with EVERYONE except their mother, and the dog would actually whine and hunker by my coworker when the mother was around. She once tried to throw the dog's toy for him and he refused to ever play with that toy again!
As for the anxiety- that's interesting that she is only like that when you arent there-but other people are there. One way I've heard people deal with some of the anxiety is doing things like picking up your keys and putting your shoes on (normal things you would do before you leave) but do those things when you arent about to leave so Marge unlearns some of the signs you give when you're getting ready to go somewhere. I'm not sure what other advice to give but I hope it gets better for you!

Sue June 25, 2009 at 2:22 PM  

Sam, How much do you know about Marge's life before you adopted her? Do you have any idea what kind of abuse she may have endured?

Martha June 27, 2009 at 4:52 PM  

We are no experts but Martha doesn't like men, in general!
She usually just growls under her breath. As you know she didn't have the best start in life so who knows what her reasons are.
Neither of our two like to be left - I usually try to go with as little fuss as possible and leave either the TV or the radio on - neither have been destructive and appear to cope with four hours on their own.
I think with all rescue dogs it is trial and error - you have to get to know your dog and experiment a bit with what works.
I avoid situations that I know Martha, in particular, wont cope with. For example anywhere there are lots of people and noise!!!
I think you are doing a great job!! I came over to remind myself what I needed to do for the competition and will try to do it tomorrow.
We are just back in today after a mammoth drive!!!

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