growl classes and desensitisation

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growl classes and desensitisation

Post by roo » Sun, 11 Aug 2002 18:22:24



A couple of nice posts from rpdb, where I asked the same question about
'growl classes', which I have joined together for aaders who don't read
rpdb. Melinda also says that 'growl classes' can include older,
well-socialized dogs, when I asked about whether it's a good idea for
hooligans to try to learn good behavior from other hooligans.

Diane starts out explaining what they are, Tara mentions her dog going to a
'sort of' growl class, and then talks about desensitization. This is Tara G,
not Tara O, btw. It's so clear and detailed I thought some people would like
to read it.

I'm still not entirely sure what happens in 'growl classes', but have a
better idea now. The trainer's skills and selecting the dogs seem to be
crucial to their success. Expect Lynn K would know a lot about this, but
haven't seen her post much lately.

Alikat

Quote:

> The dogs are paired up to good physical match then turned loose to
> interact on their own while muzzled.  Then more dogs are added.  I
> think the general idea is to let dogs work out their fears safely.
> Eventually the muzzles come off.

> Ian Dunbar popularized the idea here in the USA and I've known other
> trainers who did similar.  Ian Dunbar has a video tape that includes
> footage on the growl classes.  From my observation I'd say that it was
> very useful for some of the dogs, and I thought extremely stressful for
> others.  Based on the video tape and feedback from a variety of skilled
> trainers I really can't recommend them.  I am certain you will find a lot
> of variation in how they are run and the skill with which the dogs are
> observed, guided and supported.


I basically did a version of this with Finn back when he had full use of
his body and he wasn't sore. He went to doggy day care every day for his
socialization. At first, he was muzzled (the others weren't, but there
were no aggressive dogs in the bunch at all). Then the handlers there
took off his muzzle during quiet times. After a couple of days, he no
longer needed to muzzle at all. He went often, and he even played on a
few, rare occasions.

While it was helpful in some senses, since his aggression was pretty
much built in to his temperament, rather than situational, it didn't
carry out into real life at all. Basically, he was flooded with dogs and
he never had a problem in *that* scenario.....but he was the same on the
streets as he always was.

It wasn't until I did a slower desensitization in conjunction with the
clicker that I saw some really profound changes.

Quote:

> How did you do this? I've tried getting Conor to sit and rewarding him
when
> he does so, which stops his barking at friendly big dogs he is nervous of,
> and eventually calms him enough to relax with them, but I have never tried
> using a clicker with him.

Tara replies:
Slower than you are probably doing it. There was the obligatory
"charging up" of the clicker. I really didn't think the clicker was
going to have much impact. I figured the clicker would only be as
important to the dog as food is....and Finn was *never* very food or
treat oriented. I used nuked, fresh chicken livers (BARF!!!! I'm not
sure I'd ever get comfortable with those things popping between my
fingers even if I wasn't a vegetarian), bacon, beef strips....you name
it. My little doodlebug was one psyched pupper.

Then, we went out at times when there were VERY few dogs. At that point,
I already knew from much experience that his "safety zone" was over a
block. Any closer than a whole block away and his hackles went up and he
went into total stare mode. So, I made sure I kept at least one and a
half blocks away. Whenever a dog would show up that far away, I just
clicked and treated (yup....with the icky, stinky liver, bacon, beef,
and whatever else I found in the meat dept). I noticed that the click
was having a profound impact on him. His head was *** around and he
was immediately focussed on me. Mind you, I had tried similar methods
with similar treats,  but without the clicker. I don't know if me
removing ALL chances of emotion bleeding through my voice made the
difference, or if I was pushing to fast and moving too close too soon.
Most likely all of the above.

Anyway, the goal was to *keep* him relaxed and happy......and to keep
him in his safety zone. As he got more used to actually being *happy*
with dogs being that far away, I let us get *slightly* closer (now a
block). That worked really nicely for a few days, so we went to half. He
progressed pretty quickly after that.....to the point where he was
heeling past pack walkers with 10 dogs on leashes on narrow sidewalks.
He even had a dog bound up to him once (something that would have caused
me a major heart attack earlier in his life). Since we had been doing so
much work, my trigger finger was at the ready :-). I immediately
clicked.....and damn if he didn't whip his whole body around to focus on
me even though there was a huge Greyhound sniffing up his butt! HIs only
reaction was to stare at me and wag his tail (and eat the livers that
were now raining down upon his head :-)

Sadly, he started surgeries a couple of weeks later and was homebound
for the better part of an entire year after that. He lost a lot of
ground.....and also (after 4 surgeries) lost his hip as well. He was
back to square one except that he didn't have the mobility, nor the
stamina to get through this.....to be honest, neither did I. After the
multiple medications, 4-6 time a day compresses and swim therapy
sessions I frankly didn't have the energy left to see if I could help
him through it again. I stopped trying....after all, his running days
were pretty much over anyway.

A good book for a simple breakdown of desensitization is (I've
recommended it here before) _The Cautious Canine_ by Patricia McConnell.

The clicker, I just added as a conditioned reinforcer to giving the rewards.