Now that you have some background on Penny’s sass (aka reactivity), I’ll start to fill you in on her progress in training and life!
Fluoxetine (aka Puppy Prozac)
The first thing our trainer recommended after assessing Penny’s behavior was getting her on Fluoxetine, an anti-anxiety medication. It’s the type of medicine that has to build up in one’s system to take full effect. We paused Penny’s training to let the Fluoxetine kick in. Rewind to the first couple sessions before Fluoxetine… the biggest issue with our trainer, Rachel, was that Penny didn’t trust her yet. We literally had to crate Penny and have Rachel throw treats in her crate to show her that she’s a source of positive things, like hot dogs and jerky.
Fast forward to now, and we haven’t picked up official training sessions with Rachel yet. It’s my fault for procrastinating reaching out to her, but it’s on my list to get this train rolling ASAP.
My Amateur Training
Like I mentioned in my post about moments of doubt, Penny, and all shepherds, are extremely smart. They’re not just smart, they have an innate need to learn. So while official training was on hold, I used resources like CARE for Reactive Dogs to start training Penny on my own. Even if you use a trainer or go to classes regularly with your dog, the key to making anything stick is reinforcing what’s learned in class at home.
I started off by making sure I ALWAYS had treats on me whenever Penny and I were out and about. Yes, even during potty time too. I live in an apartment and run the risk of strangers in Penny’s potty spot at any time of day. The second step to my training was having Penny learn “See stranger. Get treat. Repeat.” This took some practice, and most importantly distance. [Reactive dog owners quickly learn their dog’s threshold – how far they can be from their trigger (human, dog, bicycle, etc.) without reacting (barking, lunging, growling, or even panting and being on high alert).] I don’t use clicker training (yet), so Penny knows she gets a treat when I say the word “yes” in a very upbeat way. I started her training by walking and making sure she looked at a person walking across the street, then saying “yes” and giving her a treat. She caught on pretty quickly. So now we will be walking and, as long as someone is far enough away, she will see them then automatically look at me for a treat. Can someone give me a woot woot? Or woof woof? Ah, dog humor never gets old.
Semi-Pro Tip: Keep your training sessions short, anything from 5-15 minutes is most useful for your pup’s retention. If you want to get farther, do a short session in the morning and another one in the afternoon or evening.
Respite and Relax
Even though us reactive dog owners worry worry worry, we can’t let that our dogs do that 24/7. They need respite from training, stress, anxiety, etc. and to get a chance to be a normal dog. Something I learned from CARE is, “Cortisol is a hormone produced in the adrenal glands in response to stress and is responsible for activating the body’s “fight or flight” response in stressful situations. Reactive episodes produce spikes in cortisol, which lingers in the brain, causing your dog to reach his reactivity threshold very quickly. It can take up to several weeks for cortisol to dissipate.”
So, make sure your dog gets ample stress-free, trigger-free exercise and stimulation (physical and mental). I take Penny on walks (often at odd hours), play with her on a quiet hill, and chase her around my tiny apartment – she loves to be chased. I also try to teach her fun tricks to get that Aussie brain working too!
Penny and I are bonding and learning from each other throughout this process. The problem isn’t loving me, though. So, stay tuned to see how Penny does with professional behavioral training, acclimating to my brother when he moves in with me in the fall, and her daily training with me.