Too Boring for Prime Time

Humans love drama.  And television producers know that many dog lovers among us cannot resist the heartbreak of watching a troubled dog thrashing at the end of a leash, barking, snarling and snapping at something or someone.  So they put a dog in a situation that totally freaks it out and record the resulting meltdown to entertain us.

And invariably someone will point at the berserking dog and demand to know “What’cha gonna do now?  Stick a cookie in the dog’s mouth? Huh? Huh? HUH?”  Hey, don’t look at me to argue with that one!  I totally agree.  If a dog is actively trying to shred another dog, sticking a biscuit in its mouth is probably not going to make a damn stinking bit of difference.

So along comes a behaviorist to try to explain that they don’t actually work with a dog while it’s in that frantic state of mind and they get:  “Oh, you’re just jealous of the real experts.  If it works so good how come you’re not on TV?”

It turns out there’s a pretty simple reason you won’t see much science-based behavioral modification on television.

It’s boring as hell.

Once you commit to desensitizing an aggressive or fearful dog the goal becomes to avoid all that drama you see on TV.  That’s what a behaviorist means when they talk about keeping a dog “under threshold”.  No, that doesn’t mean to amp them up, bring them down, then try to work with them while their heart is still pounding and their blood pressure is sky high.  Working under their threshold means avoiding that state of mind to begin with.

No sane producer is going to put our story on TV – but what the heck, I’ll pitch my show anyway.  Let’s see, I think we need a working title.  How about “Decompressing Misha, a dramatic re-creation of the process we used to get my dog to the point where she could go for a walk in the park”.   To speed up the pace a little we’ll cover a whole week of training in each episode.

Episode 1:  The first week we’ll be working in the high school parking lot across the street because she can’t actually go in the park without freaking out.  She watches the dogs go by in the distance and growls once in a while.  It would be better if we could get far enough away that she doesn’t growl – but any time she can see a dog that isn’t safely behind a fence – she growls.  I feed her lots of little slivers of hot dog and we do simple repetitive obedience work.  Sit.  Watch me.  Walk around a bit.  Sit. Down.  Sit.  Watch me.  Down.  Walk around a little more.  (Are you bored yet?)

Episode 2:  See above.  About halfway through episode two she seems to realize that she is safe from those distant dogs, and stops trying to look around me to check the walking path.

Episode 3:  More of the same, hanging out in the high school parking lot.

Episode 4:  Whoohoo!  We’ll actually cross the street to walk in the park this week!  We’ll walk around in one corner, a football field or so away from the path where the dogs are.  We’ll do some more basic obedience and she’ll eat lots more little slivers of hot dog.

Episode 5:  Each day this week we’ll move a few feet closer to the path where everybody walks their dogs!  How’s that for excitement!? We’re a real ratings machine for the network, aren’t we?

Episode 6:  Some real drama this week.  Things have been going so well that I moved a little too close a little too fast and Misha garumphed at a dog walking on the trail.  We’ll move back a bit next week.

Episode 7:  We regain the ground we lost last week.

Episode 8:  Wow, can you believe it!  We’re working only fifty feet or so from the path.  On a quiet weekday morning we’ll even walk on the path for a few feet if there’s plenty of visibility all around so we can bail off the side of the path into the big field if we need to.

So tell me, are you really going to tune back in to that show week after week?  Heck, you probably didn’t even make it through the first episode.

Sure, it takes a lot longer – yet it’s not as time consuming as it sounds.  It’s actually a fairly simple process.  We only worked for 15 to 20 minutes at a time.  And that was time we would have spent on a walk or playing training games anyway.  But no, you certainly aren’t going to see results overnight.

So why bother?  Well, when we started out with other methods she tried really hard to behave for me – but she still hated most other dogs on sight.  Even now, she probably won’t ever be a dog park kind of girl.  But while she’s still a work in progress I do honestly believe we’ve changed how she feels about dogs this time, instead of just changing how she behaves around them.

For links to more blog posts from folks working successfully with reactive, aggressive and/or fearful dogs please visit this week’s Never Shock a Puppy blog hop.

Author: Date: Wednesday, 6. October 2010 11:46 Category: Dog Stuff
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