Watching Lola work her way through life and now watching Evie experiencing the big wide world has really driven home to us how much Lola struggled on a daily basis with basic doggie behaviours and what we perceive is ‘normal’ for them.
Even before her illness took hold she would have good days and bad days. It really was dependent upon the changes in her environment, or to be more specific what environment she was put in to. Despite our best efforts it was common for Lola to have an experience that rattled her and this manifested in reactivity, mostly barking and manic behaviour. Understandably she would respond how she thought best benefited her at the time, although it wasn’t always ideal.
One thing that always astounded us about her though was her ability to bounce back from situations whether they were something simple like a loud, unusual noise or being rushed at by another not so friendly or too friendly dog.
Once we came to realise that Lola was ‘predictably unpredictable’ we were much better equipped to help her live her life with the least amount of disruption and upset. Instead of waiting and seeing if a new place, person or thing was too much for her we got in first and using food, classically conditioned her to potential ‘threats’. This allowed us to instill wanted behaviours instead of waiting for something to effect her and having to fix the issue. We also implemented a version of the ‘Look at That’ game from Leslie McDevitt’s brilliant book Control Unleashed.
Of course things didn’t exactly go the way we hoped and when that occurred we implemented counter conditioning and desensitisation techniques to help her cope. When you are dealing with a fearful or anxious dog you need to be able to help them realise that whatever it is that is upsetting them is really no big deal.
Evie is certainly benefiting from all that we went through with Lola. She is not what I would classify a fearful dog but she is definitely wary, a trait indicative of her suspected Dingo origins. She can demonstrate some very telling body language when she isn’t 100% happy, tail tucked, head down, gaze averted, you get the picture. Her reactions though are extremely different from Lola’s, if she can she will go to a safe place, if she can get to us too so she can feel safe she will, if we tell her to sit and focus on us she will.
All these behaviours are smart and show that Evie is averse to conflict and as long we can keep making these behaviours rewarding for her, by providing her with the distance that she desires from what is upsetting her they will be reinforced and she will continue to do them. These desired reactions coupled with continuous classical conditioning will mean that Evie will be set up to have the same ability to bounce back as Lola did. A fact she has already proven to us at 7 months of age, which makes us very happy!