Sunday, April 24, 2011

Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in

So Abby's progression with us has been really interesting to watch.  We've gone from a girl who literally would be pulling me and bouncing towards any object that she saw, to now sometimes getting a bit mouthy with some dogs.  It also has been a progression that has only recently occurred, and I'm really hoping that we'll be able to make some positive improvements for her so that she doesn't feel so overwhelmed and reactive. 

As we had worked with Abby on her relaxation and general anxiety, we also tried to put her into daycare for a few reasons.  Not only was it clear that she lacked all social graces, but we also were able to give our neighbors some relief from her all day barking.  Daycare made a huge impression on Abby, and certainly helped with some of her anxiety.  The days we did crate her very slowly began to go a little bit better, and inevitably we sent her to daycare to tire her out and also so that I wouldn't have to race home at lunch to let her out.  She always seemed excited to go to daycare, and we were also excited to send her. 

Last month my husband and I went on our long overdue honeymoon, and we sent Abby to stay with a petsitter.  On her usual Thursday Abby went off to daycare, and when she came back the feedback was that she had a few little scuffles in daycare, at least one of which she caused.  My immediate reaction was to be worried, but then I balanced it out with, "Well, she was in a new environment and she was out of her routine with my husband and I." 

The same day that Abby had a great reaction to Caitlin the week after returning from vacation was twofold.  On one hand I was excited by her reaction and interaction with Caitlin.  However, there was something at the end of our interaction that did concern me.  As I previously wrote she had played with Dexter and was having fun being rowdy, and she even let the little girl, Caitlin, throw a ball to her and went to sniff her.  Towards the end of her interaction, one of our neighbors came home with his dog.  He let his dog out of the car and the dog approached Abby.  Now Abby has played with this dog in the past, although I sometimes limit their time because this dog plays a little rough from time to time.  However, as the new dog approached Abby instantly got mouthy with him and started to bite at his mouth.  She even made a sound as if she was hurt while biting him, yet he was very clearly not doing anything to her.  I was shocked!  I took Abby back, made our apologies, and went homeward bound. 

Admittedly I was worried about sending her to daycare, but with it being month-end at work I wouldn't have been able to get home for lunch.  So Abby went to daycare, and the feedback was positive:  she had fun playing and romping and was a joy to have.  Phew!  Maybe those incidents were just flukes! 


The next week she met a new Boxer puppy in the neighborhood.  She did not seem to like the immediate rear sniffing from the puppy, but she didn't get mouthy.  Instead her tail dropped between her legs and she tried to scoot away.  But then she would go right back to play wrestling and seemed to have fun.  After a few minutes a newer puppy in the neighborhood, Cooper, approached.  Abby has been very patient with Cooper in the past and has enjoyed playing with him.  Although Abby is not a big dog, she sometimes is unsure with smaller dogs because she usually is the smallest dog in daycare.  This day when Cooper approached, the Boxer puppy went to greet first.  Abby watched without moving, her tail in a high arch over her back as is her normal posture when any dog approaches.  Cooper was focused at first on the Boxer puppy, and after a minute turned his attention to Abby.  Abby promptly bit him in the mouth.  I pulled Abby back, apologized again (as I'm starting to get used to) and Cooper's mom continued Cooper on his walk. 

The thing is that there are times throughout these weeks where Abby has great interactions with other dogs, and so it is just so hard to tell what is going on. 

However, last week things came to a head.  Abby went to daycare on Thursday and it did not go as well as it should.  The wonderful thing about where Abby goes to daycare is that they write up blurbs about how the dogs did in daycare.  I always enjoy reading these as I wait for Abby to be brought up from daycare.  On this particular Thursday I did not enjoy reading this.  It said that Abby likes to start scuffles in daycare and most of the other dogs ignore this, but today she started one with Zoe, a Boxer around Abby's age, and it escalated before the staff could intervene.  Abby ended up with a scratch on her head, and later I found one on her leg. 

My husband and I joke that our children have four legs, and as I waited for Abby to be brought up from daycare I felt my heart sink as I waited to see her and wondered how bad it was.  My initial thoughts as I saw her were, "Oh my gosh, my poor girl, she has a scar!"  In retrospect the cut really wasn't that bad.  When Abby's mouthiness first started I talked with Jessica about it and she said that some dogs don't do well with daycare longterm, and perhaps I needed to consider removing her from it.  My confirmation that this was the appropriate course of action was being mulled over in my head this Thursday.  Part of me thought, "Well, this feedback seems to come on Thursdays.  Maybe there are particular dogs that seem to spark Abby's reactivity."  I realize now that the fact that there is reactivity at all means I need to work on it. 

I brought Abby to class on Saturday and immediately became aware that we needed to work with our girl.  We brought Abby inside to wait for the previous class to finish up.  Abby was waiting on her mat, when a small dog came around the corner and instantly went up to Abby to give kisses.  Abby was fine with this, and barked as the dog left as if she wanted the dog to stay to play.  Then Abby made her way up to the working area and I put her mat down.  She was sitting calmly until she heard Morgan, a Chocolate Lab.  Morgan is high energy, and her in-your-face style in recent weeks has left Abby unsettled.  Abby had actually tried to bite Morgan before, and I hadn't thought much of the incident largely because of Morgan's over the top nature.  However, as soon as Abby heard Morgan approaching she was at attention and ready to defend... or attack, I'm not sure which.  Morgan tried to approach and Abby instantly lunged.  I got her back to her mat, but unfortunately the next dog to come in tried to sniff Abby and she again lunged.  It was clear that daycare was completely off the table, and honestly I'm OK with that. 

After class I spoke with Jess, and left armed with a book to begin to understand how to shape Abby's reactions and perceptions of other dogs.  All dog interactions are off the table at this point, and frankly it makes it easier.  As I began to really look at Abby this week, I had a bit of a revelation.  When we first got Abby she was instantly reactive and barking, pulling, hopping, and lunging towards whatever she saw.  However, as we worked with Abby on her reactivity, I began to take anything that didn't resemble that over-the-top reaction as a step in the right direction.  It dawns on me now that while Abby doesn't bark, pull and hop in the presence of something to watch, she does have a reaction.  She freezes.  Her body is tense and her tail is arched high over her back.  Nothing about that posture seems relaxed to me. 

So at this point I have a lot of work to do with our girl.  I swear just when I start to get one thing sort of figured out, she throws another challenge at me.  But I know that she's in the best possible place for her to display these behaviors because I'm committed to understanding them and working with her. 

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