Whether you think you have a problem or you don’t have a problem to work on with a puppy, you should get it and read it anyway.
The author clearly and easily shows how something that turns up in adolescence like fear of strangers was actually present in the puppy but went unnoticed. Since it went unnoticed and thus unaddressed, it escalated during the intense development stage of adolescence.
For me, the intense behaviors Levi displayed when he first came to my home (and still does) mostly fall into “constant arousal displacement”. His pacing, biting to the point of bloodletting, tearing up clothes, enjoying some people’s attention but avoiding others, whining and growling for no obvious reason, peeing excessively, extreme food drive, chewing on or eating anything he could get his teeth around…
On a scale of one to ten, I’d guess Levi was about an 8 in the anxiety that causes such displacement behavior. It wasn’t me or my emotional state, it was his; triggered by sounds, social interaction, and the dramatic change in his environment. He was going after me to bite and beg because I spent the most time with him (15-20 hours/day).
He isn’t as “good in public” as I had attributed to him, according to the book. The anxiety about social interaction is still present, so the little things I’d noticed aren’t excessive worry on my part, they are clues to when he feels pressure. Thankfully, the social anxiety isn’t as strong as the anxiety from the home change.
Now I can look back and recognize why Levi had better days than others in many cases, and it correlates amazingly well with what we did and where we went. He’s showing the most anxiety about children in public, and visitors/noises at our home. Sounds that bother him at home don’t bother him in public nearly as much.
Now before you think “there she goes again, blowing things out of proportion and being reactive herself…” This knowledge actually takes the pressure off ME. I know for a fact that Levi isn’t reacting to me, it’s not that I have to change myself to help him, nor do I neccessarily have to work so darn hard!!
The solution: dealing with the underlying anxiety, not the behavior it causes by providing 3 major things to Levi. One is allowing him to “escape” from a situation that stresses him, and definitely rewarding him if he returns to it on his own.
This is one thing I haven’t really done well–I’ll let him run to the end of the leash but then I call him back and try to help him interact and stuff. Oops. Often I will click and treat when he’s calmer, or give the person a treat for him, but I haven’t helped him relax about the situation first.
Second is information that the “threat” isn’t really threatening, by allowing him to check out the person, place, or thing at his own pace. Watching me interact with whatever and enjoying it is also very helpful to him.
And thirdly, teaching him that he can use his own behavior to calm himself and make the stressor less stressful. Sniffing, chewing, and foraging he likes to do, so I need to find ways to incorporate them as part of the training and socializing, not just the in-between training.
I’ve done this some, and our trainer has this concept down much better than I do, at least in terms of allowing the sniffing/chewing/foraging more. I need to make the chewing a reward, as a positive association with a stressor in a more formal and consistent way.
Anyway, you can tell how much I have yet to learn and I’ll digest then apply the exercises in the book to help us both!! Thank God for smart people, huh?