A few months ago I started working with Wilbur and his mum on our Online Thinking-Dog Distance Programme.
Wilbur is a beautiful teenage Chocolate Labrador who had a cruciate injury when he was a young puppy. He had a long recuperation period and had to be crated for many weeks while his body healed.
Sadly, although his mum did as much as she could to help him, he missed out on some important stages of his socialisation period because he couldn't be exposed to new experiences.
As a result, he became clingy with his mum because he had spent so much time with her. He lost his confidence and was anxious around unfamiliar things, including other animals and people.
He also became a really excitable teen, who managed his anxiety by flinging himself into "giddy mode". Barking, whining and hurling himself around after balls was a lot easier for his brain to deal with than facing his anxieties.
We have worked together for a few months and Wilbur and his mum have made some lovely progress. He can now be in the car without barking at everything he sees because his mum has taken him out for short sessions and driven up and down past other dogs while mark-treating him for quiet. (Local dog walkers may have felt a bit stalked by a car following them at Wilbur's safe distance!)
I wanted to share some early comments from his mum for two reasons. The first is that Mrs Wilbur shares a feeling that I quite often come across with people who watch our videos. She thinks that the dogs in the videos are calm... They're really not! Some of them have the capacity to be either over-excitable fizzies, or are highly reactive. Every dog you see on our pages has had regular meltdowns in the past, and still might if they are faced with triggers too fast and too soon. This is why we ask all our owners to avoid triggers when they're out and about, other than when working with us in a managed environment. This is how we create calm, confident dogs: by gradually exposing them to stressors in managed ways.
I often think that maybe we're not showing the "real" dog in our videos, because they all look so calm and self-Controlled. Some trainers and behaviourists show "before" and "after" videos of the behaviour of dogs they're rehabilitating, but we don't do that because we avoid putting a dog in a situation where it feels so threatened that it needs to react.
Instead, we manage both dog and environment so that they feel safe. We build their confidence by never putting them in situations in either consultations or classes where they feel they need to react to triggers. Consequently, their confidence grows and their #SafeDistance (the amount of space they need between themselves and a trigger before they react) decreases.
The dogs you see in our Thinking-Distance classes have the capacity to be highly reactive, but they don't react to other dogs or people in class because they feel completely safe. Our fizzy, excitable teenagers learn to be calm because we teach them to develop the thinking part of their brain, which results in self-Control.
So, the dogs you see on our pages have the Thinking-Dog 3 Cs. They're Calm, Connected and self-Controlled. The videos show what each dog has the potential to be all the time, at home and out and about, if they are managed in ways that they feel safe and calm.
The second reason for sharing his mum's message to me is because it shows how committed she is to the time needed when working with a dog like Wilbur. The pics are of Wilbur after a few days on the programme. You can see how much he's learning to be a Thinking-Dog from his mum's words.
I love that his mum knows the process will take time and is committed to doing everything her boy needs:
"These dogs in your videos are all calm.... Wilbur is massively excitable at first, so I can see it will probably take a bit of time but that’s ok we have all the time he needs and we will get there.
Even just starting what we have yesterday, he seems more focused although at the moment I think habit and excitement gets the better of him but it will come eventually and I think actually perhaps he is enjoying the concentrating. And of course the attention but in a different way to what he’s used to.
It’s funny how seeing this and listening to you makes it easier to understand where we have been getting it wrong. Thankyou!!"
It's been a real joy working with Wilbur and his mum because she is completely open to a new way of living with her boy. She's enthusiastic and knows Wilbur really well and has already taught him to move beyond the former excitable, attention-seeking boy to a much calmer, more self-Controlled pup.
Great work from them both 😊