Tuesday, April 19, 2011

With positive reinforcement training you can get rid of your dog's fear for strangers and other dogs

We have seen 3 dog behavior problems till now in the last 3 posts. The first one was how to get around the barking problem while alone in a crate, then we saw how to tackle the grooming phobia and in the previous post we saw how to get around the barking problem while walking with positive reinforcement training or clicker training. There is no such behavior problem in dogs that cannot be corrected with positive reinforcement training.

In this post I am going to discuss the story of my close friend John’s dog Vinny, a Dachshund that he adopted from a rescue home. Vinny is under the spell of a behavior problem which is quite common in dogs coming from rescue centers or which has spent it’s initial days of life in a puppy mill. Vinny is pretty normal at home, but the moment it’s on the street, walking, it slips into a state of trance due to unusual fear. This problem is developed as a result of an earlier trauma that it has gone through or due to extreme isolation.

John had adopted Vinny from a rescue center a couple of months ago. She is an adorable little dachshund, very playful and happy at home and loves to be on the laps of her people most of the time. But the moment she’s taken out for a walk and starts seeing other people and dogs on the road pass by near her, she just shuts down and goes into a trance. Even though she walks along with John, she’s in a different world altogether with all her senses shut down. She won’t respond to her name or won’t even take the yummiest treats offered to her. This was due to a complete mental shutdown due to extreme fear and the saddest part is that she has already gone past her fear threshold.

Please watch this interesting video

This is an adverse case of mental trauma caused due to intense isolation or lack of proper socialization in its past life. This is a serious dog behavior problem that needs to be addressed with utmost patience and care. Since I had encountered similar problems before with other dogs, I already knew how to correct this problem using clicker training (positive reinforcement), so I could easily pitch in and guide him properly.

Since Vinny is under the spell of an extreme mental trauma we had to be absolutely careful with her. Any wrong move could permanently push her into an irrevocable state of mental shut down which we could never think of. So it took more than a month to bring her back to normalcy.

  1. The first thing that we did was to let her watch the world go by in a safe distance sitting at the comfort of the front yard. As she watched each human or animal pass by, we clicked and offered her a treat immediately. Though she wouldn’t respond to take the treats during the first few days, we were extremely patient and consistent. But after couple of days she started to accept treats, and we were progressing. This helped in associating her ‘scary’ things(humans and other animals) with something positive like treats or praises.
  2. Though the progress was pretty slow, we didn’t want to force her into anything bad and hurry things up. That would have only worsened the problem.
  3. Then as a next step, we took her on a short walks in front of the house and let her watch the people and other dogs pass by at a much closer distance. We continued to click and treated her as and when she watched them pass by.
  4. Finally after a long 40 days of positive reinforcement training she fully associated humans and dogs on the street with something positive as treats/praises and then gradually started to enjoy the world pass by her as she walked along with her master without the aid of praises or treats.
  5. The key to a successful clicker training is timing, consistency and patience. A clicker trainer must learn to click/treat with accuracy; otherwise you might end up reinforcing a wrong behavior.
Did you see the power of clicker training or positive reinforcement training? It’s extremely powerful. This training method is not only useful for correcting behavior problems but also teaching advanced techniques like search and rescue and bomb detection. Clicker training can also be used for training horses, chickens or even a potentially dangerous killer whale. Isn't that awesome?

Thank you for reading my post ! If you liked it please do not forget to share it with your friends and also  leave your valuable feedback as a comment. I will be discussing the remaining behavior problems in the upcoming posts. Till then, Happy Petting !

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