sábado, 27 de novembro de 2010

Update on Kikko (or... can a head halter help with separation problems?)

This post is an update on what’s been going on with Kikko since he came back. You can read the initial description here

So… Kikko hás been here for 4 weeks. Some days have been better, some days have been worst, but the good days are becoming more frequent. Specially in this last week there has been a great improvement! We’ll get to that…

His adaptation to the rest of my dogs was awesome! It seems as if he never left! Since day 1 I have been letting him loose with his siblings, his mother, his “cousins”, “uncles” and “grandmother” (i.e. with the other Drevers and Dachshunds) and there has never been any aggressive reaction from anyone, no one kept aside, no one trying to dominate. I’m not surprised about that with the Drevers, my experience with them is that they are not dominating dogs. I was a bit surprised with the Dachshunds, but I suppose the age of all the puppies – 10 months – aids in no one trying to impose themselves or posing a “threat” to the older ones. All my dogs are also used to being with dogs of different sizes and ages, which also helps to build tolerance.

Actually, as far as adaptation goes, Kikko has been doing wonders to Pinhão, a 4 year old Dachshund. Since I’ve had him 2 years ago, he has always been very shy and interacting very little with other dogs. However, for the first time I see him playing like a puppy! It seems he found his soul mate on Kikko! :)
However, Kikko’s coming here had one drawback for Pinhão. He is an extremely sensitive dog, the type that when he feels a bit more stress from people will lie down on the floor, avert gaze and do absolutely nothing. It takes a lot of encouraging and some patience for him to build up enough confidence to come back to me. Well, these days have been quite stressful for me – I’m already naturally stressed, and with Kikko’s problems I’ve been even more stressed, especially with the near constant and persistent barking. It took me a while to realize this situation, so I’ve been doing an even bigger effort for self-control. And the progresses done with the puppy are also helping all of us to be more relaxed!

After a little more than a week, Kikko adjusted to our normal rhythm. He has always been an apartment dog, going out for walks on a leash (and, until very recently, a very thigh leash, because of his arm problems). Here, the dogs spend a good part of the day loose on the yard, in different groups. At first, he would not want to stay there for more than a few minutes at a time before starting to bark anxiously, as when he sees me disappear. But gradually he started to relax on the yard for longer periods, and now he does not bark to get out during all the time the dogs are there. He just does it when I start taking dogs out and I don’t take him, even if the order of the changes is the same every day – after all, both the dogs and myself like our steady routines. But that is changing… we’ll get to that…

In the mean time, as Kikko adjusted to the routines and a steady feeding schedule (before he had food ad libitum), his hygiene at home improved greatly. In the past 2 weeks, give or take, there have been no more accidents at hom. And when he needs to go out, he is starting to ask for it. He is still peeing at home, but now it is possible to find a context – lately he has only been doing it when I leave the house momentarily to take care of the other dogs. In this situation, he either barks or pees in the house. But that is also changing… we’ll get to that… (Are you staring to get the idea many chnges have happened in the past few days? ;) )

There was however a little setback, quickly resolved. After a couple of weeks after getting Kikko back, I had to leave for the weekend. So I asked the girl who sits for my dogs to come. All the other dogs know her well by now – except Kikko. Despite not having any more problemas apart from the usual (barking, peeing), I noticed that in the first days after that Kikko got a little worse, barking more and with a more anxious pitch and peeing more. But towards the end of the week he was back to normal. I guess he realized I was not going to disappear.

Regarding his crate training, there has been some progress. Thanks to sleeping and eating in there every night and using the kong during the day, he already goes happily to this crate!... Even when he does not need it but thinks he may get something by going! ;) However, if I crate him during the day, after a short while or if he thinks I’m leaving, he starts to bark a lot. And the kong is not helping here - even stuffed with treats he really likes, he will play a bit but when he realizes I’m about to leave he’ll start barking. During the night I have no problems, only when it gets close to getting up time. In this case, although he will not bark continuously as during the day, he will whine and bark sporadically until I get up, get ready and let him out; sometimes he will even soil the crate.

Against my expectations, I managed to find a head halter in town. Before I started suing it to attach the leash, to teach Kikko not to pull on the leash, I spent about a week and a half to get him used to using it without signs of discomfort or stress – many sessions of feeding treats through the loop, then with the loop on the muzzle, then attaching and releasing the halter, then having it on for a few minutes, then for several minutes. When I felt him at ease with the halter on, I started taking him out to the yard with it. In the beginning he still tried to fight it when he felt the resistance on the head, but with some treats he quickly realized where he could go without pushing on the leash. I’m also always using the same leash with him, so it is easier for him to learn the limits than if I was using leashes of different length or a retractable leash.
Even after I started taking him out on leash with the halter, I continued putting it on at home in different situations, so there would be no strict association between the halter and going out. And this brought me some unexpected benefits! And now yes, we got to that! ;)

Some days ago, a Facebook friend shared a link about the use of a face wrap to get a dog to stop barking inappropriately. I had heard of body wraps to help control fear and anxiety, but it was the first time I had heard about something similar for the muzzle. Initially, it seemed like a silly idea, the dog could easily take it off, or if he stopped barking it was because o the stress of having that thing around his muzzle.
(But then again, the first time I heard about clicker training, over 10 years ago, it also seemed like an unnecessary concept and after learning how to do it and seeing the behavior change in my own dog I became a total fan! So I will not immediately dismiss something I don’t know)
So… I read the text in the link, made a mental note and didn’t think about it again. Or rather, I probably would not have thought about it again, but something happened which I probably wouldn’t have even noticed if I hadn’t read the piece! And I said above, I was getting Kikko used to the head halter for several days, and could not longer see stress signs when he was wearing it. Back then I was already having him use the halter at home for some stretches of time. And it happened that during one of those periods I went out to switch the dogs I had loose on the yard. And for the first time I left home and he was not barking! Nor peeing! Nor jumping up my legs when I got back, he just came quietly. Hmmm… weird, this is not the Kikko I know! Well… a coincidence, I though… But that situations and the piece I had just read were tumbling in the back of my mind. So, since a week ago, I decided to start putting the halter on each time I had to leave the house for a bit (switching dogs, taking care of the others, etc.). And lo and behold, he did stop barking, when in those situations he would systematically do it. And the peeing in those situations also stopped! Yeah, one problem controlled! And as for barking on the year when I start taking dogs out and not him? Well, let’s give it a try too… I put the halter on when I start to take the dogs out and voilá, he stopped barking on that situations also. One more problem under control!
I was thinking… did he stop barking because he was uncomfortable wearing the halter? I don’t think so. I’ve been noticing that, either at home or outdoors, even with the halter on he still barks on “normal” situations (when he sees strangers, when he plays with other dogs, when he’s disputing a toy), it is just the anxious barking that stopped. Indeed so, I’m actually considering starting to use the halter when he’s on his crate, to see if it also works on that situation.
And after one weeks using the halter on this “secondary” role, I see that even when he’s not wearing it, I can change the dogs on the yard or leave the house for a while and the bark has considerably decreased. And despite that in this situation the peeing has returned (well, it’s fairly ok, I’d rather deal with pee that with the dog with the lungs from hell!), I notice Kikko is less anxious and excited when I get back home.

Kikko, Alfinete and Pinhão
So, in short, I think this week remarkable progress has been made! Kikko’s habituation to the home rhythms, his friendship with the other dogs (specially Pinhão and Alfinete) and, most especially, the major behavioral changes I saw this week with the help of the halter point towards an excellent recovery. Although I am aware it will be a long path!
Righ now, my main question is about if whether or not a full habituation will happen in the sense that the halter will no longer work on his “secondary” role. However, as I see some behavioral changes even when Kikko’s not wearing it, I’m hopping improvement will become more permanent

(P.S. – His serious look on the photo is not because of the halter, it’s because he was not too happy about being on top of a table, but it was the only way I could manage to get a decent photo of him all by myself)

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