Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Study of Triggers

So I got a great book from Amazon this week called Help for Your Fearful Dog by Nicole Wilde.  In it, there was a suggestion to keep track of a dog's fearful reactions to pinpoint triggers more effectively.  In other words, what *specifically* is setting your dog off.  So I made some mental notes this week, and have come up with the following sets of triggers for Sagan:

  • Men.  If Sagan is going to react to someone, 9 times out of 10, it is a man.  He is not afraid of all men, so I'll have to do some digging to figure out what it is specifically.  At Reber Ranch yesterday, he was passed VERY closely by 2 women, one with a noisy, squeaking cart...and had no reaction.  Man walks by=snarfle.
  • Sudden Environmental Contrast (SEC).  I read about this in the book, and it really fits.  In the hallway at my school (very quiet, long, no movement, white, no sound dampening), Sagan always reacts (sometimes just stiffening, sometimes barking), when a student or adult comes out of a room into that hallway.  Also, after school on Wednesday, Sagan watched a group of track students noisily run by, but started to bark when one student (who had met Sagan before) came out of the pack to greet him.  He is able to walk through crowds of people with no problem, but when there are one or two, he can focus on that and tends to react more.  It is possible he is fearful in the crowd, but not barking, however, his body language does not seem to indicate this is the case.
  • Adults more than children.  I'm not sure if this is a height thing or what, but I've rarely seen Sagan react to children....even one that came baseball sliding into him at Ross' school.  Yes, he snarfled at this kid, but no bark your head off reaction.
  • Dogs (this is a big one right now).  Pretty much all dogs from all distances.

Counter-conditioning notes:  

We have been continuing the "look at that" game, while clicking and treating.  We've had some progress with that, but feel like I've come to a standstill with it.  I feel like Sagan is not generalizing what we are learning to different environments.    Because his threshold distance to what sets him off is so variable, I frequently have him over threshold before I can correct.

Given his ball obsession, I decided to ditch the hot dogs and treats and clicker, and start trying his jingle ball as a counter conditioning tool.  In other words, strangers=lovely jingle ball with which Sagan is obsessed.  We tried this twice...once while visiting the vet's office.  Sagan still barked upon entry and still barked at folks coming through the door, but he was quicker to forget about it and focus on play.  We also tried this at Reber Ranch...stood close to the checkout and entrance door with lots of people coming in and out.  Only 2 small snarfles in 2 separate instances, and his focus was still on the ball.  I have to be careful, though, that I am allowing him to see the strangers and not blocking him with the ball play.  He needs to learn strangers=ball.  

I was really encouraged by this, because I'm feeling like we aren't making much progress with the fear issue.  I'm still perplexed by where the fear came from.  For quite some time, I was convinced we had done something, but this fear is soooooo ingrained, I have to think some of it is genetic. I know that border collies in general can be sensitive to noises, and don't generalize well.  So I think we're on the far end of the spectrum.  I don't think the breeding or whelping was the culprit.... nor do I think we exposed him to something incorrectly....  And I'm also aware we're coming up on a second fear period, so I'm hoping to make some really good progress before that occurs.  Feel like I'm watching the sand run out of a timer.

No comments:

Post a Comment