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MemberApril 13, 2021 at 10:36 AM
Some background: Lance is a very soft 3 1/2 yo GSD mix I adopted 8 months ago and who came with a lot of intense fears. He does not have a genetically fearful temperament but has learned that the world is a very scary place and that anything related to people is dangerous. Children and buildings are especially terrifying to him. He loves hiking on trails, though, so I have used that to start his socialization. He has come a long way and is now comfortable with passing people and mountain bikes on the trails we hike (which are not heavily trafficked, but we still encounter people and bikes on each hike). We are taking an extended RV trip this summer, so I need to get Lance prepared for more activity in RV parks, visiting friends, and especially being around a busy household with my daughter’s family. I asked Robert for help on how to best use the time I have to get him ready. That is when he walked me through the Ping-Pong approach.
Ping Pong: Robert talked me through this with regards to getting Lance used to buildings. A key thing that Robert told me is that for a soft dog, the fears are often imaginary – the “boogyman”. Forcing such a dog to “face” the scary situation will backfire, because the dog will not realize that there really is no boogyman in the building. Instead, his imaginary fears are going to grow even though nothing “bad” happened to him. While forcing a harder, more confident dog into a place that he is scared of might work, it is absolutely the wrong approach for a dog like Lance (this was key for my husband to hear!). So instead, the concept is to build his trust in me that I am watching out for the “boogyman” and will remove him from the situation and not let anything happen to him. Then he doesn’t have to worry about it as long as I say it is OK.
I started out with an open pavilion (no walls – just a concrete pad with a roof) So here is the process:
1) Go to a spot near the pavilion, but far enough away that he is not stressed about it. Do about 5 minutes of obedience training, very upbeat and positive. Keep the obedience simple – something he can easily do and get rewarded / motivated.
2) Walk with him in heel position toward the pavilion. BEFORE he gets stressed, turn and walk away from it. We don’t want to push him to the point of failure, or even to the point where he is quizzical or nervous. After walking away, reward him and then do a few more obedience commands. Do NOT reward him on walking TO the pavilion.
3) Repeat AT MOST one time, depending on how he is doing. And maybe don’t repeat at all. Repetition can put too much pressure on him. We want to show him that there is no pressure.
4) Then go for a walk, hike, or anything fun for him for 5-10 minutes, enough time for him to completely forget about walking toward the pavilion.
5) Do 2-3 sessions of this during the day. It can be multiple sessions in one outing, or different outings. Just be sure to do something fun and totally unrelated for 5-10 minutes between each session (for Lance, it is hiking or playing in the creek).
5) Gradually build up to where we can enter the pavilion, then turn and leave. Then start asking for a “Sit” or something in the pavilion, reward, and immediately leave.
6) Once he is comfortable entering the building, start doing the obedience session inside the building and then immediately leave. Take baby steps! Anytime there is insecurity, go back to obedience and reward heavily with treats.
We have been working on this for about 2-3 weeks now (bad weather has frequently interrupted us), and there is steady progress. He is doing very well with the open-sided structures (as long as no one is in them!), and I am now gradually working up to small outbuildings and my friend’s home. Then I will progress to a very low activity shopping area.
I have discovered other ways to help him through his fear as well, especially using my husband (who Lance looks to for protection and security) to help set Lance up for success. I’ll have William sit at a table in the pavilion, so Lance is eager to go see him. Plus he seems to figure that if William is there, the boogyman must have been chased away! Then later, I’ll repeat without William there. When we recently had to go to the vet (which I was dreading because I thought we would have to drag Lance inside), I had William in the lead, with Lance and me following. He was nervous, but walked right in! I was amazed! Thanks to a fabulous vet team trained in working with fearful dogs, that didn’t even set us back in our training and I think actually helped show him that he could trust us.
So in summary, Lance is learning that I am the force that moves him away from pressure. It is not that I am trying to “trick” him into doing something scary. It is the development of trust, that he can rely on my judgment. We are doing a similar approach with meeting people (and children in particular,) although I have not had much opportunity to work on that. But the trust from the work on buildings seems to be carrying over to other situations as well.
MemberApril 13, 2021 at 11:24 AM
Riggan, thank you for taking the time and effort to put this together for everyone. Your particular style of explaining things is extraordinary.
MemberApril 13, 2021 at 2:51 PM
Thank you very much for the thorough explanation and for taking the time to write this! Lance is lucky to have you
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