Thursday, May 29, 2014

Pet behavior modification 101

Maddie and I had an excellent visit with pet behaviorist Kelley Bollen in Northampton, and I feel confident now that we can stop her from being aggressive towards little dogs and also stop her from pulling me.

The first step is getting her to use the gentle leader, which is the only way to have total control. I did this totally the wrong way with my crazy golden retriever Charlie when I tried to force it on him and he would get it off and chew it to pieces in seconds.

It is a step-by-step process of desensitizing her to the head collar through getting her to accept it by offering her food when she sticks her nose through the loop. Being a lab who will do anything for food, she caught on quickly. Yesterday I kept it on her while she licked peanut butter from a spoon, getting her used to keeping it on longer. Today I kept it on her while she ate breakfast.

We also practiced changing her response to smaller dogs. Kelley brought out a stuffed animal that looked like a small yellow lab, and Maddie lunged for it. (Apparently they all think this thing is real.)
We tied her to the door, and I practiced giving her little treats while she looked at the dog. So if we see a small dog while walking around the lake, supposedly I can change her association by giving her a treat whenever a little dog comes along.

After I get her used to wearing the collar in the house, I'm going to take a walk with Kelley in Northampton to see how it's done.

This sounds more promising to me than zapping or shouting or trying to strong-arm her. I wish I had used this positive reinforcement when trying to tame Charlie. A trainer who came to the house said that he was way too alpha, and she told me to assert myself as alpha by actually lying on top of him on the floor, which only made him madder...and ended up leading to him attacking me.

The hour with Kelley cost $95, and I think it will be money well spent.

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