Rocky was a 10 month old male German Shepherd.
He was suffering from separation anxiety and was reactive towards other dogs on walks.
As a puppy, the owner had taken him to training classes but was asked to leave as he barked. She was offered one to one training but told she was too soft and he was disobedient and untrainable!
When I arrived, I met a very distressed owner and an incredibly anxious dog.
The owner said that Rocky was unresponsive to her commands, however firm she tried to be and believed he was being naughty. On walks, he would bark at other dogs and she would tell him off, but this wasn’t working. He was very clingy to her and would be destructive, cry / howl and have toileting accident if she left. Fortunately, she didn’t have to leave him as he could stay with her mother if she had to go out.
We tried some basic training to see how he would respond, but instead of telling Rocky what to do, we just played some training games and rewarded the behaviour we wanted. We could see Rocky growing in confidence as he got things right for the first time in his life, and as we didn’t tell him to do anything and put no pressure on him, he couldn’t get it wrong! The owner also proved that she had good timing and natural ability to shape Rocky’s behaviour without having to bully him. Within 10 minutes Rocky was able to sit, lie down, stay for a few seconds and do little recalls across the lounge. It was the first time either of them had managed to understand each other and was a real breakthrough for both of them.
From here we were able to progress his training over the next few weeks and also focussed on a stress reduction programme, but now the owner understood that Rocky was not a bad dog and did want to respond appropriately when he understood, this removed much of the stress and frustration they were both experiencing. We were then able to address the separation anxiety and reactivity on walks. Both of these were due to the extreme anxiety Rocky was experiencing; he had learnt to associate seeing other dogs with being in trouble and as so many aspects of his life were aversive he was constantly seeking social affiliation with his owner which was causing hyper attachment and separation anxiety. As we improved the relationship, were able to guide his behaviour through training and reduced stress, Rocky was then able to engage with the specific behaviour modification plan.
This was not a bad dog, nor a bad owner. She had sought advice and tried to follow what she was told. This was a case of bad advice which hadn’t understood the emotional state of the dog and had tried to treat a sensitive dog using harsh methods.
Hazel Shimmin KCAI(CD), MSc