Trainer Janine Allen with "good buddies", Fenwick, Calvin and Jules.
Have you rescued a Kerry who has had an abusive past or seems fearful at every move you make?
Have you accidentally frightened your dog by dropping something or unintentionally startling him? Does your dog freak out every time he sees or hears (fill in the blank)?
Has time and love failed to help him recover from his trauma? Living in fear is not a quality of life for a dog and any Kerry, at any age, can benefit from your rehabilitation efforts.
When a dog is frightened, our nurturing instinct is to give large doses of love, affection, and coddling which can be very beneficial but is this what he really needs at the moment? He surely appreciates his homemade diet, memory foam bed and daily hikes but how is he coping with fear?
Is high-pitched baby talk and rapid petting and scratching reducing or increasing the dog's stress symptoms? Does the dog continue trembling and panting as you softly massage his ears?
This article will help you to identify and treat the specific needs of your dog during his most stressful times. There is so much more to rehabilitation of the fearful or traumatized dog than can be written here but knowing a few key elements will greatly improve the success of your dog's recovery.
Most rehab will require your time and effort but, if you want to try some products first, they can enhance and maybe expedite your dog's recovery. The Anxiety Wrap and Thundershirt target acupressure points on a dog to aid in calming. One can also use an Ace bandage wrapped around the dog's torso with the same effect. For dogs with visual triggers, a Calming Cap can lessen his anxiety if your Kerry will tolerate something on his head. A piece of t-shirt jersey can also be used as a see-through blindfold. Rescue Remedy, Dog Appeasing Pheromone, and several nutraceuticals have been beneficial in the rehabilitation of fearful and traumatized dogs.
Now, here comes the time and effort part. Can't stress enough now important it is!
1. Properly identify the symptoms of trauma or fear.
General signs of stress can be as severe as a Kerry who won't move or eat, to a dog that simply averts his eyes from a trigger in the environment. Some other common signs are lip licking, yawning, lowered stance, stiff body, lowered ears, and tail tucked. Even if you know that a past event has traumatized your dog, try not to read too much into it and just respond to the observable symptoms. Your dog is not dwelling in the past, just reacting in the present.
2. Identify the triggers that cause the symptoms.
Triggers are things in the environment that cause the dog to display the symptoms. Loud sounds, children, other dogs, garden hose, people carrying things or wearing hats, are some common triggers for fearful dogs.
Furthermore, triggers may only be active in certain places, times of day, or quantities; or over a certain duration of time.
3. Determine the threshold (point at which dog displays fearful symptoms) for each trigger.
To the best of your ability, keep your Kerry sub-threshold during rehabilitation. This may mean covering up windows or confining the dog to a crate if, say, he is reactive to people walking near your home.
Carefully close cupboard doors and set pots and plates down softly if your Kerry is reactive to sounds. If he fears other dogs, avoid walking him during popular dog walking times and absolutely do not take him to the dog park.
"Flooding" (forcing the dog to face the trigger with no escape) rarely helps a dog and increases the chance of making the dog's fears worse.
4. Establish what type of treats your dog really likes.
The food needs to be small, pea-sized, and non-crumbly. Refrigerated cooked chicken or beef are easy to slice into tiny pieces.
A hot dog cut into 80-100 pieces then cooked in a skillet or oven (to remove the greasiness) might not be the healthiest but many dogs find them irresistible.
Once you have identified the symptoms, triggers and thresholds, you can start the desensitizing and counter conditioning process. Pairing food with the trigger will give your Kerry a new, positive association with what he fears. The goal is to decrease the dog's symptoms as he is exposed more to his triggers.
With a hungry dog, and bag full of those favorite treats, you are ready to start training.
Feed one piece of food at a time while dog looks at or listens to trigger. If the dog stops eating he is over threshold (or not hungry enough) and training session needs to stop and be re-evaluated.
Give 10-15 rewards and then give dog a break by removing the trigger or removing the dog from that location.
Repeat several times throughout the day. Gradually start to push the threshold limits as you continue these sessions over several days or weeks.
It is important to maintain a log of your progress during desensitization and counter conditioning.
List your Kerry's triggers and what types of symptoms he displays. As you expose him to the triggers, take note of his behavior. You should expect to see some sort of improvement with 10-15 repetitions of exposing and then removing the trigger.
If signs of stress are not diminishing after several tries, then the program needs to be re-evaluated. Perhaps you need to move the trigger farther away, reduce the size of the trigger, use a different food, train during a different time of day.
Of course, if the trauma or fear is affecting your Kerry's health, or if none of the suggestions listed above has improved his behavior, a vet visit is in order. There are several veterinary prescribed drugs that can assist your dog's progression through his rehabilitation. Most vets will recommend the help of a professional trainer in conjunction with drug therapy.
Qualified trainers can be found through the Association of Pet Dog Trainers or Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Severe cases may require a veterinary behaviorist. Regardless of the cause of the trauma, let go of the past and start rehabilitating your dog from this day forward. Start TODAY!
Janine Allen is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer with 25 years dedicated to the business.
Janine works closely with local shelters, foster families, and adopters to give the dogs and their people workable solutions to create an environment in which these dogs will thrive. She is a graduate of the Exotic Animal Training and Management Program at Moorpark College in California and her dog expertise has been greatly enhanced from seminars given by Jean Donaldson, Ian Dunbar, and Karen Pryor's clicker training team. She competes in Obedience, Rally Obedience, and AKC Hunt Tests with her Labrador Retrievers.