Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Never Say Never! Phoenix Does Play Group!

Do you guys remember a year ago, when I first started my dog training job? Phoenix snapped at my co-worker's dog and I said she would NEVER learn how to be social or do the play groups my work offers? Well... I was wrong. After a year of working at my work, helping teach classes and working with the dogs in our play groups, seeing other dogs overcome their discomfort and fear of dogs, I overcame MY fear and booked Phoenix for a behavioral evaluation. Phoenix has been helping out in our reactive dog classes, which also helps her out, she gets counter conditioned, too. She's not leash reactive but face to face greetings are really hard for her and that's something we don't work on in a class environment. I really want to help her to feel more comfortable when we encounter other dogs out in the world while we are hiking.

Phoenix helps reactive dogs learn to relax!

My boss is a behaviorist and because Phoenix has never injured another dog, he agreed to working with her and trying her with our work dogs. My boss has also spent several months working with me and helping me to normalize conflict and snarky behavior. It's just a part of life, dogs have no other way of telling each other they don't like something and injuries rarely occur. Which is what we've seen with both of our dogs. Although, I will tell you it's much harder watching my own dog get snarky. I can manage a group of dogs all day long and not feel the anxiety I feel when it's my dog.

So her eval day arrived and it was time to take the bubble wrap off of her! Oh boy was I anxious but I am happy to report it went better than I expected. The face to face greetings were hard for her and we also decided she has what we call "problematic herding behavior". She has a weird hereditary drive to chase and nip the other dogs when they are running. With the bigger dogs we saw some snarky stuff because she's fearful of them but our play group dogs are really social and well behaved. They immediately understood that she was scared and they didn't push her. The younger dogs running makes her want to chase and nip but she did not hurt anyone and none of the dogs seemed to be bothered by her. She played with a few of our smaller terrier-type dogs which was great! One of our big grumpy old dogs actually liked Phoenix and tried to get her to play. Phoenix was not comfortable enough yet to play with her but it was cute to see her try.

Here's a short video of Phoenix with Percy. She really likes him! https://youtu.be/PZI_-K0S6ys

These are photos from her first full 4 hour play group:
At first, all she wanted to do was hide in the corner!
BUT, she was comfortable sharing her corner!
Everyone here is sharing the momentary sun!
Phoenix gets brave enough to mingle and sniff Nigel!

My boss decided that we could keep trying Phoenix on Monday mornings and we are hoping to increase her comfort level. Right now she doesn't really know what to do but she did do some playing with a couple of different dogs and that made me happy. I'm hoping that she can learn how to be a dog. I'll keep you guys updated!

Never say never and don't give up!


  1. One step at a time. She'll get there with lots of patience and love.

    Have a fabulous day. Scritches to the girls. ☺

  2. Woohoo! This is spectacular news! Thanks for explaining how slowly and cautiously you've tackled this. The video was great. Four hours of play group - I bet Phoenix was tuckered out afterward from the mental and emotional exercise she got!

  3. That is great! Patience is key!

  4. That's such a success for you both!

  5. That is such wonderful news, Lauren! You are amazing - well done in starting to expand Phoenix's horizons!

    I've struggled a lot with this type of issue with Shyla - about whether to try to continue to push her comfort envelope or to let her be. For now, I feel like the stress to her is too great to push her further (especially with stress being a possible seizure trigger).

    What do you think about whether it's worthwhile for someone like me to get a behaviorist's assessment of Shyla? I know that she's fearful, and I know that she expresses it by shutting down. Perhaps a behaviorist would be able to suggests meds or a new approach to helping her take that next step toward confidence?

    Just curious about your thoughts about being happy with where we are now (even though it's a little limiting) or striving to go further. I'm tending toward the former these days.

    1. I think it's definitely worth it. Getting a qualified behaviorist's opinion is a really amazing experience. We were able to learn so much about both of my dogs! I also think that chemical intervention is a wonderful thing for us to be able to do, as long as they are able to find one that doesn't mess with her seizure meds. We've had good luck with trazadone but you would definitely have to talk to your vet about it. Mostly it's just up to you. If you think she's perfectly happy out there in the forest with you and she's not having too many fear episodes, she's having fun with all the things you do on a regular basis then maybe letting her be is just fine, too!

  6. Dear Phoenix,

    Wow, that is a Big Thing! Congratulations! I know so many Dogs that don't even want to play, so it's pawesome that you were interested and trying this new thing! Hurray! We hope it keeps getting better!


  7. How cool! I'm so glad that she's making such progress! I can't wait to hear how things go as she continues working with your boss!

  8. Yay for progress! I hope with more time and patience, you can get Phoenix exactly where you want her to be. It also gives hope to all of us with reactive dogs or dogs with issues, so thank you!


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