Update on Gracie the Bichon

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equestrian2024
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Update on Gracie the Bichon

Post by equestrian2024 » Sun Apr 12, 2015 11:54 pm

First, I want to thank you so much for all of your advice for me regarding her. I never would have learned all these great counter-conditioning techniques if not for this board. I'm definitely paying a lot of attention to her stress levels now and she is so much calmer than she used to be. Most days, she doesn't even whine when the mailman comes. We can be right by the front door and she still does great. If there's any big noise in the neighborhood, she comes straight to me, looking for meat, instead of going crazy like she used to. If there's a little noise/far away noise, she ignores it! Most times, when there's a big noise, she just looks at me and doesn't even bark or whine. My friends and family have noticed a huge difference in her. And I have been sure to tell them all about stress levels and counter-conditioning, hoping that maybe they might use these techniques with their stressed out dogs! :)

I have noticed that she is much more responsive to me too. She seems to listen better, which is a great bonus to all of this, too. She's always had somewhat of a stubborn streak. One day last month, my mom accidentally left the door open and Gracie made it down the street before we noticed. I grabbed a bag of meat, called to her and she promptly turned around and started trotting down the sidewalk towards me! She trotted across our neighbor's front lawn and their dog started going crazy. On walks, she always strains towards this dog's gate on the leash while the dog barks, so this was a huge distraction for her. She stopped, looked towards the dog, looked back and me and ran straight for me! I was so proud of her! She got lots of praise and several pieces of meat for that! When we first got her, she never would have listened to us if she got out.

Unfortunately I haven't done any door training or mailbox training yet because that requires two people and I haven't been able to arrange that with my work schedule. So if a package gets dropped off, she still kind of does go crazy. But she's definitely not as stressed as she used to be and you can call her away from the door, which never, ever happened before. But the main thing is that we don't have a crazy dog on our hands every single day when the mailman comes, which is such a relief! We can go the entire day without a big barking/growling fest which is sooo nice. I do still plan on doing the door training and mailbox training once my school semester is over and I have more time.

Visitors are still a major stressor for Gracie. My parents' friends came over about 2 weeks ago and she just could not handle the husband. Every time he talked or laughed (even across the room) she barked fiercely at him. I was working, so I put her in the room with me and she did great. She settled right down and took a nap. Before all this training, if we separated her from visitors (even if one of us was in the room with her), she would whine and whine and whine. She still whines throughout the week, but way less than she used to.

So I have a question. I've been avoiding stressors a lot and she's so much calmer. But is there a way to get her used to visitors instead of just avoiding all the time? Can I do something to socialize her? I've seen Victoria have a whole bunch of men come by and toss meat towards the dog. I feel like that would benefit her so much, but I don't know how in the world I would arrange that. She is absolutely terrified of unfamiliar people and will still bark and lunge and growl at them coming in the door. However, she has made some progress in the way of visitors, possibly just due to the fact that she is less stressed.

On Easter (at my grandparent's house), every time a family member arrived, she would get a little tense (tensed up body, little barks, straining on the leash) but i started giving her meat as soon as a new person came into the room and she calmed down, focused on the meat and ate it. I wasn't right near the front door during this time and I think this helped her to feel less stressed. The person would just appear in the room. I feel like she did way better at this holiday than she did at Christmas for sure. I actually could get her attention with the meat and she would pretty much ignore the new person.

Before Easter, we had a birthday party at my house and she did so much better than she has in the past. I put her in her soft pen outside right near us and she hardly made a peep during the party. She did whine a few times when certain people walked by her pen, but before counter-conditioning, it would be constant whining any time people were moving around her. I would take her out of the pen periodically and put her back in there when I wasn't watching for bees and she would settle down and just doze. I think she felt safe in the pen. Also, she met the people out in the backyard instead of at the front door, which might have helped?

Despite these improvements, she still really really doesn't like unfamiliar visitors, especially male visitors. I am not sure how to show her that is ok. Any ideas? They don't come towards her to pet her or anything. They just try to walk in and she just lunges towards them barking and growling.

Unfortunately she really hates one of my grandmas, too. This grandma has never even pet her and completely ignores her, but is not an animal person and maybe Gracie can sense that? I don't know, but from the first time she's even seen her, she's barked, growled and lunged at her. I don't really know what to do about this but my parents hate that Gracie does this because they feel like it is disrespectful to my grandma (I don't want her to do it either, but I don't know what to do). It's strange because she absolutely adores my other grandma. That's the one we see every week, but Gracie has always loved her and my grandpa from the first time she met them. I will admit that my grandma and grandpa that we see weekly are quiet people so maybe that helps. The grandma she doesn't like talks a lot and talks with her hands a lot, so maybe Gracie doesn't like all the movement? Should I have the grandma Gracie doesn't like toss meat towards her?


Thank you so much for everything.

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Nettle
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Re: Update on Gracie the Bichon

Post by Nettle » Mon Apr 13, 2015 1:23 pm

You and Gracie are doping really really well. :D

Avoiding stressors is your foundation level, so takes a LONG time and needs to be sound. Think of it as if your dog was a wall with some wobbly lines of bricks - you have to take that wall right down to the first sound layer then build up straight layer on straight layer. This is why it takes so long - you and Gracie are working your way through kindergarten, but what you want from her is PhD level.

I would say do not get visitors to interact with her in any way. It is all too easy for a dog to get out of its depth with people giving food, for instance, but if the people ignore her, she has time to assess them. Think if you were in a room full of huge gorillas - wouldn't improve matters if they tried to give you chocolate, would it :wink: but if they ignored you, you'd probably want to get a bit closer, as long as you could dive away again if one looked at you.

Visitors are NOT okay, strangers are NOT okay, so don't try to kid her they are because all that happens is she feels you don't get the picture and you aren't going to protect her, therefore she has to protect herself. But if you acknowledge her fear and take steps to keep her a safe distance from these people, her trust in you as protector will grow. It's a delicate flower and can't be rushed. Put her in her safe place before you bring these gorillas in. Then she won't feel she has to shout at them and lunge at them.

She does not have to like the grandma she doesn't like. Only she knows why she doesn't like this grandma, but as the grandma doesn't like her either, nothing needs to be changed except keeping her in what she considers a safe place away from this grandma. It doens't matter why she doesn't like this grandma - she doesn't, and that's good enough.

So often we want our dogs to be appreciated by the whole world and want everyone to love them as much as we do that we take it personally when the dog doesn't fit the fantasy. Just give her space and time. No dog ever got euthanased, no person ever got bitten, from the dog having been given too much space and time.
A dog is never bad or naughty - it is simply being a dog

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Dibbythedog
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Re: Update on Gracie the Bichon

Post by Dibbythedog » Mon Apr 13, 2015 1:37 pm

Thats brilliant and I'm very impressed with Gracies progress. Well done to you and Gracie .

Thanks for the update. :)

equestrian2024
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Re: Update on Gracie the Bichon

Post by equestrian2024 » Tue Apr 14, 2015 2:03 am

Thanks Nettle and Dibbythedog! Nettle, ok, I understand. Maybe I am moving too fast for her. I will continue to avoid, avoid, avoid. Also, it made a lot of sense what you were saying about her not trusting that I would protect her. It made me actually sad when I read that because I love her so much and I want her to trust me to protect her. :( I definitely need to step it up in this area so she feels safe around people/dogs on a walk, etc.

I had been trying to just get her used to our friends and family, I guess, because we do see them a lot. My parents just want her to be a regular dog and there's a lot of pressure from them regarding Gracie and why can't she just be like other dogs, why can't she just settle, etc. :? Although, I will say that my parents have noticed the huge change in Gracie and are very grateful that things are better than they used to be. If we don't have visitors/packages delivered, things are absolutely amazing. I never would have imagined Gracie could be so calm and quiet all day long back when we were still having major problems with noises and the mailman. So, things are much improved and my mom and Gracie have a positive relationship now. Now, if Gracie whines a little bit, my mom doesn't get so annoyed because for days, Gracie hasn't whined. I feel like before, there were so many ways that Gracie was annoying my mom and it would happen every day so that my mom never got a break from it. That made my mom really frustrated and on edge all the time around Gracie. Every little thing Gracie did made my mom upset. Now, there are so many good days in a row that if a package gets dropped off here or there and Gracie barks, my mom doesn't mind as much.

I have a question, though. Say we are having a party indoors. If I put her in another room away from the people, I know she will just whine the entire time because she is all alone. This will stress her out, too, right? (and my parents will hear her and that will not be good). But it will be less stress than being in the midst of all the people? So I should put her in her safe place (away from us, like on my bed with the door closed) when we have parties or are you talking about her soft pen? During the birthday party (outside) we had, I positioned the pen near me, but a bit away from the other people and she did great with minimal whining/stress.

If it's an indoor party, are you talking about a safe place in the room with us? She already lays in her bed during indoor parties, but the problem is that every time my grandma she doesn't like gets up, Gracie races out of her bed to lunge, bark and growl at her. This happens if anyone she doesn't know/like stands up. :( Even if Gracie is on the other side of the room. Although the living room in my house isn't that big, which is a problem. I was reading some threads here on crate training actually and I was thinking about "crate training" her with that soft pen that i have (she already uses it outside daily and she already settles in there usually unless the cat runs by). I'm thinking about really crate training her with meat and very small baby steps so that it's always a positive thing and she likes being in the pen, not just putting her in there and zipping it up and going to the other end of the room. Based on past experience, I think she may start whining if I bring the pen inside and just zip her up in it. But I think since she already uses it daily outside and she did seem to feel safe in it during the outside party, that she might continue to feel safe in it inside the house, too, if I do real crate training.

If I had my own place, I think Gracie might have a much easier time because I wouldn't have visitors around so much, but my parents want to have parties here and have friends over a lot, so it creates issues. And I can't say anything because I live in their house. They want Gracie to just learn how to deal...they do support the counter-conditioning (they will give her meat during mail time if I am busy), but they don't like her barking and growling at their guests (or whining constantly).

Thank you for your help.

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Nettle
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Re: Update on Gracie the Bichon

Post by Nettle » Tue Apr 14, 2015 2:46 am

You need to do both :D

Time spent teaching a dog how wonderful and positive their crate is before you ever need to put them in it for a reason, is time you never regret. Time you spend teaching a dog she can be safely away from 'the action' in another room is time well spent.

Use the crate in the same room only when you can 100% trust people to keep away from her - because being unable to get away while some dork of a human eyeballs her and talks to her makes many layers of the wall wobbly. One incident like that undoes months of work.

Teach her that awesome things happen in the room on her own. Familiarise her gradually, starting with a few minutes at a time, to being in the room on her own. Make it the most awesome room, with a stuffed kong, some simple puzzle toys (check out our Exercise the Mind thread) such as a tiny piece of food hidden in scrunched up paper in a box etc. Make sure she has had a good walk before the people come. Use an ADaptil diffuser. Anything else you can think of to make every stay in the room just amazing.

Positive training works on mothers, too, so remember to tell yours how proud of her you are that she is beginning to understand how Gracie is feeling. Gracie can't behave like a regular dog because she isn't one. Tell Mom Gracie is doing her very best and it's lovely that she is understanding how hard Gracie is trying.
A dog is never bad or naughty - it is simply being a dog

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equestrian2024
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Re: Update on Gracie the Bichon

Post by equestrian2024 » Wed Apr 15, 2015 2:54 am

Ok, thank you for the advice. I'll work on her being ok in another room as well as "crate training" her with the soft pen.

I know you said that we will probably be in the "avoiding stressors" category for a long time and that is fine. I can be patient. But is the end goal to ultimately start to get her used to people instead of avoiding them all the time? If so, how will I know when she is ready for that? Or will we be avoiding people for the rest of Gracie's life?

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Nettle
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Re: Update on Gracie the Bichon

Post by Nettle » Wed Apr 15, 2015 3:27 am

It happens by itself. We just need to hold on and allow it.

What will happen is that Gracie will become less and less stressed with visitors once she discovers that they mean good things (I go in my room and have fun, or I go in my crate and I'm safe). As she becomes less stressy, she will find certain visitors that she is okay with because they ignore her. She can then progress one visitor at a time to staying in the room with them but with her crate handy and open for her to go into if it all gets too much. Over time, she will choose to stay out of her crate. Over more time she will choose to appraoach a visitor. This is when you need us again :wink: because the visitor should ignore her even if she touches them. Over a few times of advance and retreat with that visitor, she will ask for attention. The visitor should still ignore her (this is why we need to choose our visitor carefully and brief them thoroughly). One day Gracie will run up to this person wagging her tail and allow herself to be stroked. The visitor must not pick her up, hug her or make lots of noise. Nice and calm is the way.

Accepting roomsful of visitors may never be achievable. Liking the grandma she doesn't like may never be achievable. But it doesn't matter. What matters is Gracie feeling safe and happy, and that can only come in her time to her schedule.
A dog is never bad or naughty - it is simply being a dog

SET YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS

equestrian2024
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Re: Update on Gracie the Bichon

Post by equestrian2024 » Wed Apr 15, 2015 8:02 pm

Oh ok, I see now. Thank you so much Nettle. I can see why Gracie adores my other grandparents. They never hug her or force her to sit with them. If she comes over, they pet her and if she jumps down, they let her. If she comes over with a toy to play, they play with her, but if she goes to lay down at their feet, they let her do that. She seems so happy at their house.

I was going to post more yesterday, but I'm afraid it will be taken in the wrong way...but here it is:

When I get my next bichon (and I'm talking about several years from now), how do I make sure that she won't have emotional issues like Gracie does? Don't get me wrong, I have absolutely no regrets about taking Gracie in and I love her to pieces and will do whatever she needs for the rest of her life. But I'd like my next bichon to be a puppy from a reputable breeder and I'd like to do everything I can to make sure that the new dog doesn't have to struggle so much with daily life! Of course, I will try my best to socialize her with people and dogs and use only positive training, but it just seems like any bad experience (from strangers or a bad vet visit, etc) can scar a dog and that is really nerve-wracking! Do you have any advice about how to start out doing it right? I know that I cannot prevent everything, but it just seems like so many of the bichons I see out and about are completely fine with people, dogs, cars, kids, etc. Gracie will probably never be like that. How can I make sure (as much as is in my power) that my next bichon will be ok with all of those things?

I hope you don't get the sense that I wish I hadn't taken in a rescue. It's not like that at all. I love Gracie so much and I would totally do it all over again for her. She is definitely one of the best things that ever happened to me (the other two being getting my two horses). She makes me laugh everyday and has absolutely made me want to have bichons for my entire life because they are just such happy, funny little dogs. I am so happy to have her and I can't imagine life without her. However, she's my first dog and I've never had the chance to "do it right" with a puppy, so I'd love to have that experience, too, in the future.

Erica
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Re: Update on Gracie the Bichon

Post by Erica » Wed Apr 15, 2015 9:48 pm

Ian Dunbar's book "Before and After Getting Your Puppy" is a really good, solid chunk of advice that will be a good guide of "what to do" to raise a well-adjusted dog. :) (If someone tried to write out all the tips in a forum post, it would end up the length of a book anyway...and the Dunbar book is available free online, though I think it's split up into "before you get your puppy" and "after you get your puppy.") I think most everyone on this board knows what you mean with the whole "raise a puppy right" thing - I personally went for a well-bred puppy to raise because, even though I adore my "troublesome" dog friends, it's also nice to have a dog who is all fun, dependable, and not worrisome!

One experience can upset some dogs, so you do want to be reasonable and not, for example, take a young puppy into a dog park when you've heard three dog fights in the two minute walk from the car to the park...but if you have a dog with a solid genetic temperament, who was built up to be confident as a puppy, they may just take those bad experiences in stride.
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equestrian2024
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Re: Update on Gracie the Bichon

Post by equestrian2024 » Fri Apr 17, 2015 1:11 am

Thank you for the recommendation, Erica. I will definitely get that book. It's nice to know that one bad experience may not be as damaging as I thought it would. I definitely will be very smart as far as what situations I bring my puppy into.

Sanna
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Re: Update on Gracie the Bichon

Post by Sanna » Fri Apr 17, 2015 3:55 am

Thanks for the update, that's great news and very well done to you :D Gracie is lucky to have found an owner like you, keep up the good work we are cheering you on ;)

equestrian2024
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Re: Update on Gracie the Bichon

Post by equestrian2024 » Sat Apr 18, 2015 5:13 pm

Thank you, Sanna! I'm so happy that I found this board because Gracie has made so much progress since starting the counterconditioning. Thank you (and everyone) for being so encouraging. :)

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