Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Hatchback trauma

The nine-month-old yellow Labrador Retriever looked at the back of the imposing Jeep hatchback as though there was impending doom. Three times trauma would do that to a dog. Just one week ago male owner wanted to "get rid of the dog". Why? She won't get into the zone called the Jeep Cherokee hatchback space.

Her owners were frantic and said "help us fix this!"

The day in the life of a behavior trainer includes transformations such as these. The complication? One owner uses a clicker, the other uses confrontation.

Most trainers might suggest sit and click and treat and then wait or simply pick the dog up and toss "er" in the back. :) I wanted to put another technique to the test, a technique by Grisha Stewart of Ahimsa in Seattle called BAT. BAT or Behavior Adjustment Technique has gotten notoreity as of late and several DVDs and books have transpired.

The difference between this technique and simply "clicking for calm" coined by Emma Parsons is when the dog exhibits a calming signal toward the trigger, the click does indeed mark that signal, but then you walk back several steps, 10 to 15 to deliver the treat and repeat. This not only gives the dog a choice, but shows the dog they can have success making the scary trigger, less and less so.

Using this technique at 25 feet away from the "black hole" of the hatchback, within 1/2 hour the yellow lab pup was jumping in and out of the Jeep Cherokee. Owners were in disbelief. We couldn't yet have her do a prolonged stay, nor close the hatchback door (which is full of danger in and of itself), but it made the yellow lab successful and she was able to see nothing bad would happen to her.

Then we added three dimensions. We added the female owner, then male coupled with the female owner, both being schooled in BAT, and then added my teacher dog Kody Bear. Kody and the pup became instant friends and Kody then proceeded to show her how to jump in and out of the Hatchback.

The way hatchbacks close can be very challenging for dogs without any traumatic experiences, as they make funny sucking noises. With trauma, it will take patience and many successful attempts.

Now, in addition, all meals will be served in and around the hatchback, toys played in there, bones enjoyed in there and all before starting to close the door. Like crate training, the space must become cozy and safe. Outside the space will become boring, non-eventful.

Slamming a paw in the door, jumping out to run away and be attacked by a GSD, and then having to experience a leash drag and toss into the back have all added to the trauma. All this led to one of the owner wanting to "get rid of the dog". Her crime, she wouldn't get into the hatchback, she wouldn't do it quickly, and she wouldn't stay in there without jumping out to escape.

Now starting with the BAT technique, this girl is well on her way to being re-conditioned and it's all a day in the life of a behavior trainer.

1 comment:

  1. It always amazes me how quickly someone will want to "get rid of" the dog because of something like this. My own yellow lab had problems with the back area of an SUV because of two car accidents, one a rollover. If she never got into a vehicle again it would never even had occurred to me to " get rid of her." luckily patience, love, and making the back of the vehicle fun again instead of scary resulted in a dog who, at age 12 still loves to go for car rides (with the help of her ramp to get in and out). Why do people think dogs are like wind-up toys, to do with as they wish?