QUESTION: Dear Ms. Connor, thx in advance for reading my issue. Here's what I truly feel is going on, and I'm asking for your best suggestion/advice : Our little girl (just turned 5); she's a Lhasa Apso; we've had her since Jan of 09. She came with a bunch of issues, but only 2 really remain: DOG TO DOG - and DOG TO HUMAN - REACTIVITY. She lunges and barks when any other dog gets close , and if a person gets close to her, she'll lunge and bark as well. Without a doubt, that person would get bitten if they dared try to touch her. So, for the past 3 and a 1/4 years, we've simply kept her away from other dogs and most people. Every trainer we've had over have used different distraction methods - voice correction, shake cans, whistles, etc. While they do distract her, the next dog that comes near her, she'll go right back to the bark & lunge. Now, every trainer that's been over (only 2 in the last 6 months) - have firmly recommmended the e collar. They believe that is the only rememdy to fix this reactivity. NO WAY would I ever do an e collar, or as I understand, is the same exact thing as a Shock Collar. So, I am back to the beginning. I truly would like to avoid going to a CAAB or the like. They are quite expensive - and I believe there has to be someone in or near my area (Los Angeles) - that can help me organically solve this dog and human reactivity. Ms. Connor, please let me know what you feel I should do. We have come a ways with her; believe it or not, she just recently started to obey the "come" command. This is almost 4 years later. I know we sound like johnny come lately's - but my wife and I have done a pretty decent job from where we started out from. With much appreciation. Steve
ANSWER: I congratulate you for your unusual commitment to your dog, despite her issues. An "E" collar is TOTALLY OUT OF THE QUESTION. What punishment does is make a direct connection between stimulus (person) and pain, thereby escalating the fight/flight response (which is what you're seeing). Dogs are not capable of managing this response since it is biologic (much like your own when the hair on your arms become erect if you are frightened, or your heart pounds). Cognition is not available to a dog in fight/flight response. The only thing that CAN work is counter conditioning and redirection to a behavior that the dog has learned is highly rewarding.
You've obviously spent time and money already and I can't see anything from here. Since you feel the dog is at risk of actually biting, whether or not that is the case, the dog watches your body language and is most likely convinced there IS something to fear (not your fault, very common). You DO need a CAAB, whether or not the expense is something you like to consider (and I understand THAT, as well!)
I realize that LA is not within easy driving distance of Berkeley but there you will find Dr. Ian Dunbar who is a superlative veterinary behaviorist. He will no doubt be able to give you the name/number of someone in your area, someone he may very well have trained or at least knows is educated and capable. I strongly urge you to contact his office:
Dog to dog fear is not uncommon in the domestic dog if not properly socialized from the neonate phase or if the dog has had an early and frightening experience. The potential for dog to human aggression, however, is serious enough to warrant attention. At age five, she may experience response perseverance (meaning: it may be difficult, perhaps impossible, to change her reactions) but it's well worth the effort. Meanwhile: protect the dog. No need for her to be among "strange" people. She can be confined to a safe and pleasant environment at least ten minutes before visitors are expected.
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Dear Ms. Connor, thx for taking time to reply. I have sent Mr. Dunbar an e mail asking for his best referral of somebody in my area. I want to make sure I am in sync with you. You're saying that I surely need either a CAAB or Veterinary Behaviorist ? And you're saying that Counter Conditioning and Redirection is also a must ? If correct on both counts - would I have any option if I found a reputable trainer that specializes in Counter Conditioning and Redirection formats ? My little girl is a rescue - we got her at 16 months - and at that point, she was at 5 places; first owner, shelter, rescue org, their trainer & their foster mom. Then we got her. I don't know why she is a fearful little girl. Anyhow, is there also a possibility that she's hardwired - and that the Dog to Dog - and Dog to Human - reactivity - is permanent ? Or do you believe that the right professional can help ? Thank you again Ms. Connor. With appreciation, Steve
ANSWER: I would not trust a dog trainer, per se. Anyone can call themselves anything. A CAAB or veterinary behaviorist have both achieved educational and experiential credentials. I'd stick with Dr. Dunbar's suggestions.
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Ms. Connor, what would be your next best advice - should Mr. Dunbar not get back to me ? Thanks, Steve
HIGHLY unlikely Dr. Dunbar, or an associate of his, won't contact you. But...should you fall through the proverbial "cracks"....tell him/his staff that Jill Connor, Ph.D. specifically sent you. I interviewed him a few times on my radio show and have had cursory exchanges with him in the past years. This is a dedicated, extremely knowledgeable and caring man. He WILL respond to you one way or the other and, if anyone knows the appropriate professional in CA for you, it's him.