Case Histories: The Story of Hanna
(Dog Sports Magazine)
"Doing easily what others find difficult is talent, doing what is impossible for talent is genius." - Henri-Frederic Amiel
In the summer of 1996 a young woman called to inquire about training her small, very timid dog. The problem seemed to be that when she (Hanna) saw a large dog approaching her, she would run behind her owner, urinate, and scream. The owner of course, would then pick her up to "protect her" until the dog was gone. This went on for some time. The owner didn't consider this a problem until one day, when a stray Rott-GSD mix ran across the street towards them, and Hanna jumped into her masters arms, and defecated all over her (imagine that LONG walk home). So she was interested in finding out whether anything could be done about this. So at our initial meeting, I suggested I meet Hanna sitting on the ground (at her level). She approached me, ran behind her owner, and urinated. I knew this was going to take awhile.
Hanna was a 3 year old spade Boston terrier mix. Although there were other dogs living in the same house (which she was not submissive with), they were all small, submissive types. Other problems she brought to this dance were the following: Separation anxiety, housetraining problems, fear of men and any dog larger than her (she was 24 pounds). When I asked why the woman waited until the crapola incident to inquire about help, she said she felt guilty that Hanna was like this, and was embarrassed. What also came out at our initial meeting was that her ex-husband was very mean to Hanna, and would chase her and strike her. So much for why she feared men. I later explained the fact that her picking Hanna up and consoling her every time she met a dog (or a man) on the street only reinforces the idea that, "yes-you-should-be-scared-but-mommy's-here."
The core of many of Hanna's problems was the fact that she was extremely spoiled by her owner. Catering to her, sitting on her lap and petting her "anytime she seemed scared" only reinforced and compounded the fear and insecurity. She was told to back "way off" on the spoiling for her own good. To only pet her when the reward was earned. She would no longer sleep in the owners bed, and she would not pick her up until "I said so." So I had to design a training program with all this in mind. Here's what I came up with; besides the standard obedience training, and altered relationship with her owner, I had to use male AND K9 agitators. I personally began looking at Hanna differently, acting very nervous around her. You could see her respond to it immediately. She stuck her chest out and glared at me. I instructed the owner on what to do. That if she barked at me, I would act terrified and run away. She was instructed to praise the hell out of her, AND THEN PICK HER UP. Only when she scared the bad guy (me for now) away, this would happen. I threw in the opposition reflex (see October '98 DSM) exercises to build confidence. We put Hanna in a sit position, and had tried to pull her out of it, but she always won. Then we started using different bad guys. All were instructed to act afraid. You could see her attitude change. Then the bad guy had a dog with him. We of course started with medium sized dogs, but quickly worked up to bigger ones. When she barked, THEY BOTH RAN AWAY! So the dog was being a decoy too. We worked up to male Rotty and an English Mastiff (who was really scared of her after awhile!!!). At one point she was actually chasing the larger dog away! We got her to the point that she would look at all larger dogs like, "what the !@#$ are YOU looking at!!! This was of course a lot more time consuming than the standard agitation. But the results were astounding.
So Hanna now walks the streets more confidently than ever, and her owner is thrilled. We had to improvise again as far as the methodology goes, but it worked like a charm. In conclusion, remember that any learned behavior can usually (depending on the age of the dog, and the dedication of the owner) be UN-learned, and that you shouldn't be afraid to try new ideas because they're not in any book.
[Other articles by this author]