Hi everyone! I hope you're all having a great day. Today I have an update on how Phoenix has been doing. As most of you know, we started Phoenix in play groups at my work back in the beginning of February to try and help her with some of her dog/dog issues. Along the way, we've had some struggles and we've learned so much about her. Phoenix also attends our reactive dog class whenever there is room for her and helps other dogs learn how to be calm around each other, so she's getting some additional counter conditioning on leash with other dogs in a controlled manner. Working my own dog in that class has been really helpful for me and has helped me improve my handling skills which is great for Phoenix and great for all the dog training classes that I help with.
The main thing that Phoenix struggles with is greeting new dogs. She is fearful and face-to-face
(----> <---) greetings are hard for her. Sometimes a face-to-face greeting can illicit a soft snarl and flash of teeth all the way up to an actual snark with light contact. I say light contact as she has never hurt anybody.
The other issue that we've seen is what we call "breed-specific (hereditary) chasing and nipping. This behavior is very interesting as it seems like something she has a very hard time controlling on her own. It's like some sort of compulsive action that she can't help doing. When she sees a dog moving, her first instinct is to chase them and nip at their butts.
We've also seen some low-level separation anxiety from me. As soon as I would leave the room, she would continually pace and try to figure out where I went or try to get back to me. Transitioning times between employees and dogs were pretty stressful for her.
I'm happy to report that things are going a lot better and it seems like each week she does better. We've been setting her up to win with new dogs by introducing her dead last. That way the new dogs are distracted by the rest of the group and Phoenix is also distracted by the group. She is not able to zero in on a new dog to chase and nip or get snarky upon greeting them. We control the greetings by feeding the other dog so Phoenix can sniff them without conflict. We are very careful and thoughtful on how we do greetings and it's really helping. She's doing amazing outside of my work when we go hiking and meets new dogs on her own without help. We have not seen much snarky behavior in weeks, most of what we see is avoidance or a very low level lift lip. We've even seen her solicit play from new dogs out at the park, which is amazing.
Playing in the water surrounded by new dogs she's never seen before!
The chasing and nipping has gotten much better as well. Today I actually saw her think about **NOT** doing it. She started to do it and then stopped herself, turned around and came back to me. She was SO good!!! I was excited to see her do that. She is also not nipping as much if she does end up chasing and is able to recall off the dogs and come to us. We've also seen some play that did not include chasing with her, actual play bows and jumping around a little. It was so cute!
The separation anxiety and worrying about where I am has gotten much better. My coworkers report that she's doing really well and participating in all the training activities that they've been doing. She's still really worried when the dogs are transitioning to go home but we wait until she's completely calmed down before she's allowed to get back to me, which seems to be helping a lot too!
I'm so happy with her progress and I'm really glad that I stuck with the play groups, even though she had a hard time at first. I'm so thankful that I work with awesome trainers and that my coworkers have been so helpful with her. The support I've gotten has been amazing. I wish everyone had a facility like this to help them.
Note: Our play groups are not in any way close to what you would find at a traditional "Doggie Daycare". Our facility is first and foremost a training facility where we work with the dogs to help them with their issues and understand them better. I do not recommend traditional doggie daycare for dogs who have dog/dog issues, as they can end up flooding a dog and causing more issues. A training facility that understands behavior, does training and careful, thought out introductions is where Phoenix goes and it's the only sort of facility I would ever recommend. Pet owners need to thoroughly vet the places they are taking their dogs.