Unbeknownst to me Liezel began picking up on trigger words. Words that would cause panic based on their past use. Some of these words included morning, watch, heel, and worst of all, Liezel.
Yep, in the right setting, saying her name would cause panic. This is some life I’ve carved out for this puppy!
Once Liezel started showing fear aggression (barking and lunging) the goal during training was to keep her under threshold. While on a walk, as soon as I saw something she might consider scary, I was to get her attention and maintain that attention until the scary thing was gone. Sounds easy enough. We’re walking, I see someone walking their dog on the next block, and I say “Liezel” she looks up and gets a food reward. Then I say “Heel” and she is supposed to walk right next to me. And finally I say “Watch” and she is to maintain eye contact. We continue this, with lots of food reward, until the other person is out of sight.
All of those steps were taking place with an added undertone. As soon as I saw the thing she might consider scary, I tensed up and said “Liezel.” It didn’t take long for her to learn “when mamma says my name, something scary is going to happen.” Before she learned that though, she was such a good girl and at hearing her name she would look up for her reward. At that time I would say, “Heel” and she got right next to me and walked nicely. But it took even less time for her to get into heel, survey the scene, see the scary thing and realize “when mamma says heel, something scary is going to happen.” This was before I could even get to the “Watch” command. Now, of course, when we first started this exercise, I could get to watch and she would watch me. But, being a puppy she would lose focus and look around where she would see the scary thing. Once she saw the scary thing, during any of these steps, she would react. The tension was HIGH.
I worried about the other person, “Are they going to think I’m incompetent, unable to maintain my dog, are they going to call the police, what if the police show up and she’s reactive and they consider her a threat and shoot her.” “What if they try to approach us (Dear Lord, why would they approach us) and Liezel jumps on them or worse…”
I worried about Liezel, “Another terrible outing. I’m actually teaching her that being outside of the house IS scary. She’s going to have this adrenaline surging through her body for days. Why am I doing this to her. She should just be an at-home dog. But if she’s an at home dog, what if we have to take her somewhere and she’s not used to going anywhere and she reacts – like, what if we had to go to an emergency vet – would they treat her if she was barking and lunging and carrying on – would they refuse treatment….”
And I beat myself up, “You are not a good dog owner, you are one of those people that other people look at thinking ‘look at that idiot who can’t control her dog,’ you should not have gotten a dog so quickly after losing Zelda, she should be with someone who doesn’t have anxiety, you did this to her, you are ruining Liezel’s life…”
Additionally, Liezel starting picking up on trigger words at home. While outside, if a neighbor walked by I would say “Morning!” I would tense up knowing that Liezel was going to react. She would run to the fence, hackles up, jumping, barking, throwing spit, while I thought to myself, “This is no way to be an ambassador of the breed. The neighbors are going to call the police. What if the police show up and she’s reactive and they consider her a threat and shoot her.” Yes, I copied and pasted that sentence from above. Very recently a Rottweiler was shot by police – and I do not blame the police! They put their lives on the line everyday, for little pay (no amount is enough in my opinion), and there’s no time for niceties to learn, “Does your dog bite?” Conversely, the man whose Rottweiler was shot by the police was involving himself in something that had nothing to do with him. If he had minded his own business, his dog would still be alive.
Back to us, if the police did come to the house, Liezel would be crated before the door was even opened. Besides, my husband repeatedly assures me that none of our neighbors are going to call the police.
In another post I mentioned not knowing what behavior was normal dog behavior anymore. Case in point, if someone knocks on the door or rings the doorbell, what is “normal” dog behavior? Liezel has taught me (through much self awareness exercising) that when someone comes to the door I tense up. [*Social anxiety, much?!] So Liezel feeds off of my energy and reacts. This is a bit of a conundrum because we want her to bark at strangers at the door. That’s some part of dog ownership, right? But…we don’t want our door scratched up or glass broken. So where is the middle ground? At what point is the behavior normal and when is it overreacting?
When people come over that we’re expecting, or we at least know, Liezel has learned that “come on in” means others will be near her. If it’s Grandma or Grandpa, yay! If it’s the neighbor, yay! she gets to play with their Rottweiler. If it’s other people she knows, meh, ok.
If it’s someone she doesn’t know – contractors, unknown neighbor, solicitor, etc. an entire meltdown can occur. She runs to and jumps up on the door, barking all the while. If it’s someone we’re expecting, I will tell her “go to your crate,” and she will, after circling to the crate, front door, crate. She is obviously nervous, panting in between barks, with full hackles up. Here I believe she reads me. We had a guy out to replace a window. He gave me a very strange vibe. Liezel barked the entire time he was here. We had a woman out to give us an estimate on some work. I got no vibe from her and Liezel patiently waited in the crate (giving a few huffs) until she was gone.
All of this proves that in many ways Liezel is smarter than I am. She picks up on things that never would have entered the realm of my thoughts. She taught me! Taught me about myself, my reactions, my fears and anxieties…she is making me more self-aware! See, she was meant to be mine.
My next post will be about trying to overcome (or overcoming) the reactions (hers and mine) to these trigger words.
*Human thoughts: Admitting this is very difficult. Ugh, why am I admitting this… Yet I know that discomfort is part of healing.