Not So Shy Anymore

Not so shy anymore!

Written by Jerry Bradshaw- Published in Tell Tail Magazine Vol. III, Issue 3 November-January 2017

PDF Version TT_Pg1-40_Nov16-Jan2017Revised

Not so shy anymore.

If you think about it, it’s kind of a dirty trick to take a species that naturally chases moving objects, eats whatever it comes across, bites to argue, and then announce all these as behavior problems.” Jean Donaldson

Understanding systematic desensitization is critical to successful management and elimination of many kinds of behavior problems. In systematic de-sensitization our aim is to expose the dog slowly to the stimulus that elicits the unwanted behavior, while ensuring the dog experiences a response to that stimulus that is positive. This establishes a new classically conditioned behavior that results when the stimulus occurs. We require 2 preconditions: Identify and be able to control the stimulus that elicits the unwanted behavior. Identify the threshold at which the unwanted behavior occurs in the presence of this stimulus.

The shy dog

The shy dog looks to avoid managing stress. The catch 22 here is that a dog that is afraid of meeting people must be exposed to people in a way that builds confidence. Just bringing the dog out to public places without a plan may elicit avoidance behavior, without any way to control the outcome. Controlled exposure will ensure a positive outcome.

Example of a fearful/shy dog:

Stimulus: Proximity of a stranger Threshold: Proximity that elicits avoidance

The job of the trainer is to figure out where the threshold lies – whether 50 feet or five feet. Dogs possess a defensive instinct whose stimulus is a perceived threat. What the dog perceives as threatening will vary with the dog’s genetics and social upbringing.

In most cases, fear will cause a dog to avoid people (shy dog), but sometimes the dog learns he can scare people away with aggression (fear aggressive). A fearful dog who has not yet learned aggression as an avoidance mechanism, can more easily and more safely be desensitized to new people. If the dog has learned to use aggression to make people leave his proximity, the process is a little more dangerous and should only be attempted under the guidance of a professional trainer.

As a prerequisite, I highly recommend doing an obedience training program. Obedience gives the dog a set of safe behaviors and these behaviors will allow the trainer to gain a threshold more quickly. They can also be used as mutually exclusive behaviors to the fight or flight impulse.

Training procedure: Socialization game

When the dog is hungry, use his food drive to help overcome his fear. Place a stranger, seated, facing away from the dog (least threatening). Bring the dog on a leash as close as you can before he shows unease. Reward calmness yourself with some food. Then the person will gently toss food between himself and the dog. Praise him eating food closer to our target. Don’t force him, and be patient. Time in training will depend on the strength of the fear response.

The dog learns that good things happen as he becomes bolder. Overcoming this unwarranted fear is stressful. Allow advance and retreat.The dog sets the pace. When the dog takes food from the person’s hand consistently, approach from the side, then finally frontally. The person should not look at the dog rather feed the dog as an afterthought. Allow him to take food off of the thigh, lap and allow the dog to climb up on the seated person if he wishes. Always allowing the dog to approach, never moving toward the dog.

Try the same exercise with the person standing up, starting well outside the threshold. Standing will magnify the perception of threat. Only when the dog readily approaches a standing person, place the dog on a sit and stay and have the person calmly and slowly approach. Walk backward toward the dog and feed from the hand. As the dog gains confidence, have the person approach walking sideways, then approach frontally. Transfer this game to the home. Invite new people while the dog is far away on a down-stay. Place the visitor in a chair, always the same chair. Replicate the same game.

Allow the dog to approach tossed treats. By placing the new person in the same place and keeping the game the same each time, the dog will anticipate the outcome and quickly generalize the outcome as positive. Avoid triggers of quick movements. Be sure to tell visitors to be calm, deliberate, and non- threatening. After a time drop the leash and allow the dog to approach on his own. Use the down-stay at a distance to put the dog away for a time during the visit to allow stress to dissipate, let the dog relax, then repeat.

He makes a world of friends one at a time. This process takes time, but the dog will understand the game and get bolder and move much more quickly to making new friends, in a new mindset about people.