I have been working with Mocha and her “mom” in helping Mocha feel more comfortable around large dogs in her home. We have done quite a few sessions with four dogs that vary in size, color, and personality. However, all these dogs are dog savvy and dog friendly which is important in order to keep the interactions safe and to convince Mocha that dogs rock!
The training has had many components. As Mocha is more confident around dogs, I push to a new level of difficulty so that she can experience dogs in a more real-life scenario. Basically, what this girl needs are more positive experiences around friendly dogs.
Each training session Mocha seems indeed not only more confident around her new pals, but also more willing to engage with them in appropriate ways. We reinforce with a tasty morsel every time she willingly approaches one of the dogs to say “hi” – doggie style. Not too long ago, Mocha’s MO was to rush to the dog emitting a growl- regardless how big the other dog was. As you can imagine, this might be tolerated by some dogs but many others will escalate in a full-blown response.
For some of the trials, our helper dogs are also being reinforced so that they are not too focused on Mocha thus making the exercise a bit less difficult for her. Other times, we invite dogs to just be dogs and give Mocha a sniff in the butt.
If Mocha ever hesitates to say hi to one of the dogs or interact with them in any way, she is not forced to do so. Instead, she can choose to remove herself from the interaction all together. This is not only really fair to the dog that is struggling but also very smart. Confidence is very much linked with the possibility of making choices. Confidence begins to grow when a dog attempts an interaction that makes them nervous, for example, and that interaction remains safe. Nothing bad happened. On top of the interaction being safe for the dog, the dog also gets paid big time for taking a chance in interacting.
As we worked on different situations that might arise when other dogs come to visit Mocha and her family, I also made sure to keep things “light” and happy. Lots of praising in a cheerful tone. In addition, I coached
Mocha’s “mom” to act really cheerful and carefree as Mocha attempts to make new friends.
One other important component of the interaction is to continue with this cheerful and relaxed attitude even when things get a little tense between the dogs. At one point, Mocha was taking a bit too long sniffing one of the dogs. The dog who was being distracted and talked to, began to look in Mocha’s direction. This was the perfect moment to try on Mocha and our helper dog the “jolly routine”. The Jolly routine was coined by
behaviorist William Campbell. It is a simple technique to understand but not always so simple to execute.
Here is why: The essence of the routine is that no matter what happens the dog handler acts as if everything is fine in the world. Not only that, but they begin to act even a bit silly or shall we say “jolly”. Sweet talking the dog, moving with ease and breathing regardless that the situation has turned tense.
Dogs are social learners and as such they take cues from us. Especially so if the trust the person. So, if the person that they trust acts as if everything is A-Okay, then by golly, everything IS okay! Sometimes it is really hard for pet guardians to engage in the Jolly routine because they themselves are stressed. It does takes practice to act as if everything is going according to plan when it is not.
In the case of Mocha, we gave her ample opportunities to approach dogs to greet and having the other dogs also greet her. We taught her that it was fun having dogs in her home, walking around, sniffing here and there and even going in and out to the backyard for some exploration. This is in part how pups can become friends.
At one point, Diego one of our helper dogs and the largest of the lot, was play bowing and just proving Mocha that life is a blast as she hung around him. As a matter of fact, at this point we were not faking it, we were actually laughing at watching Diego being such a ham and happy as well to see Mocha approached him all on her own.
So, next time your pup needs your support, do not even consider getting stiff on him or even worse- scold him. Instead become jolly, light and fun and you will see with amazement that your dog follows your lead and begins to relax.