Tuesday, May 8, 2012

When a Full Cup is a Bad Thing

Earlier this week, I posted about "Adolescent Puppy Brain" and the regression of Hurley's resource guarding related behavior at the store.  My mild-mannered puppy has been morphing into a reactive beast and it's not good.  Beyond recognizing this as a normal developmental period that all dogs go through when they regress in their training and behavior at about a year old (aka "Adolescent Puppy Brain"), I also had to recognize that some other factors were involved.

You see, Hurley's cup is running over.  His cup of stressors and when that cup is full, his threshold is reached and he's unable to deal with the dog entering the store.

Stressor #1:  The biggest stressor he faces is his conflict over sharing the store with other dogs.  Hurley likes other dogs.  He enjoys playing and has met and liked 99% of the dogs that come into the store, even if he was a little barky to them at first.  He's especially great with puppies and small dogs but can be intimidated by confident and/or large dogs.  He also is manic about food and conflicted about enjoying another dog's presence while simultaneously sharing the store - his Most Valuable Resource as it contains food, Mom, and is not shared with his sisters.  I've known he's had this conflict since last Fall but he made tremendous steps towards accepting the presence of all dogs in the shop six months ago. Now that conflict is not so resolved anymore due to "Adolescent Puppy Brain."

Stressor #2:  The leash.  Hurley likes to rush to the door to say hello to anyone, canine or otherwise, who enters the store.  I've been successful at getting him to wait until I release him to say hello to people but he finds waiting to say hello to dogs a little too challenging at this point in his training and life.  Which results in a Hurley Monster straining at the end of his leash while I hold him back so our customers may enter in peace. As you can imagine, this is extremely frustrating for him (and for me!).  The upside is that this leash reactivity is fairly limited to the shop.  He does not exhibit any frustration on our walks about not meeting other dogs, though he is not yet at the point where he can walk by another dog on the same side of the street without a little bit of a hello.

The good news is that I am practically an expert on leash reactivity, having worked with Maggie to get her over hers in the last few years. Counter Condition, Counter Condition, Counter Condition. 

The bad news is that it takes a while.  The impression on a dog's brain from one bad experience takes many, many positive experiences to erase (at least in my experience).  And Hurley, in particular, has a better memory than most.  The more instances he reacts, the more likely he is to react in the future.  This was a major reason why I decided that he needed to take a prolonged break from the shop.  At this point, he is conditioning himself to react to each and every dog who comes in.  His threshold is being reached quicker and I have less time to intercede before he is un-intercedable and must be removed from the situation. It's my job to make sure his cup o' stressors remains as empty as possible and since I can't accomplish that right now at the shop, he stays at home. 

But that doesn't mean we're not working on these issues!  I'll post more about our training plan in the next week or so. 


  1. Ah, adolescent puppy brain. I think my dog still has this, even though she is roughly four years old. We keep hoping she'll get over it soon. :-P

    Good on you for recognized Hurley's major stressors and setting up a plan to help him out. It's really not an easy thing to do so I think you are halfway there just by knowing what you are up against. If I knew what reactivity even was when we first adopted Shiva, we wouldn't have wasted six months putting her through even more stress. Hopefully my second dog will benefit more from my knowledge, like Hurley has with you. God luck with your training!

    1. It definitely helps that Hurley is the 4th dog the Hubster and I have had so recognizing these issues becomes a LOT easier with time. When I think back on how badly I screwed up Maggie...

  2. We went through something like that when Sage was around 17 months. She developed some fears that have resulted in certain dog parks being off-limits (in her mind). That was because someone or another dog did something to frighten her. Taking a break was what I found also to help, along with baby steps to recondition her to that particular place.

  3. What a smart dog mama. I hope that working with Hurley outside the shop gets him back in a good place to be your assistant. I can't imagine how hard it would be to work with Hurley while you're trying to run a business.

    I'm sure you'll miss having him around, though.

    1. He's actually an amazing assistant when he's on good behavior. Sleeps most of the day, says hello to all our customers, shows off his tricks, then goes back to sleep. It's a hard life! But it is difficult trying to work on his behavior when it's bad. Luckily, the Hubster will be able to help me tons over the summer so I'm confident we'll get him in tip top shape fairly soon!