Part 5: Training the “Untrainable Dog

man in a blue sweatshirt holding his sone in a gray shirt and brown pants next to a black haired dog laying on a red mat outside in green turf

Behavioral Observations

As Frodo was weaned off the medication, he started to exhibit some interesting behavioral changes. On medication, he didn’t exhibit any interest in playing with toys. He had little interest in food. If he reacted to a noise or to movement it was significantly less intense than it had been. I would argue that he still seemed stressed he just exhibited a behavioral response that was on the lower end of the arousal spectrum. Off medication he exhibited clusters of behavior that I would consider to be on the higher end of the arousal spectrum.

Frodo started to play with gusto. He became intensely interested in chasing tennis balls. He even started to play with Beatrix, sorta. His play style was edgy, and in some cases seemed just a tad over the top. He began chewing on the kids toys like it was his job. And he started resource guarding his chewies. It made sense. Previously he just didn’t seem to care about anything, almost like he was depressed.

Now he cared about toys and chewies … maybe a little too much. It was almost like he had mentally checked out when he was on the medication, and now he was making up for lost time. There were adjustments to be made in his training plan, but I have to say that in many ways I actually enjoyed this zestier version of Frodo. It took a month or two for things to even out again to the point that he seemed able to think through his renewed zest for life.

Engagement in Training

Frodo was more actively engaged in every day events and surroundings and was also more actively engaged in training. We were back on track. He started getting a better night’s sleep and the speed at which he acquired new skills accelerated, which also meant he was making considerably more progress with his behavioral goals.

For example, it was becoming easier to have people enter the house, and it was taking less time for him to settle and get comfortable when guests came over. I still trained in these circumstances but the training sessions were becoming more fruitful. I was not longer having to stemming the tide of reactivity, I now had an engaged student in front of me, eagerly awaiting my next cue. If he did go over-threshold it became easier to work through his reaction and his ability to rebound was impressive in its own right.

In 2018 we welcomed a baby girl into our family, Annelise Violet Rose was born on March 27, 2018. When you live in a house with three kids and three dogs, it’s hard – if not impossible – to manage everything all the time. Tired kids are loud, unpredictable, and prone to hitting, pushing and pulling. We do our best, but there are times where the dogs are subjected to the brutality of the babies, and surprisingly, Frodo takes it in stride. I can only think that building that “trust account” (see Part 2: “Making Deposits in the Trust Account”) in their early months, pre-crawling, made all the difference.

How is Frodo doing today?

Frodo still has his “off days” now and again. Days when triggers stack, one on top of the other, and he struggles. He might be more sensitive to outside noises, or show other more passive signs of anxiety. Management and training protocol is still a necessary part of living with him. I regularly assess his needs and map out training plans in the same way I would for one of my client’s dogs. This helps me stay focused and objective about his behavior. It also helps me to troubleshoot whenever we hit a turbulent patch; like a couple of weeks ago when he decided that bicycles were a clear and present danger.

I have to keep myself in check, too. Taking him on a hike or for a trip to a park might be a great form of enrichment for the average dog, but not for Frodo. I try to provide enrichment opportunities that are better suited to his individual needs, usually things that happen in the comfort of his own home environment. It’s enough to take pleasure in the small but significant milestones. Like when Frodo curls up next to Ami’s side when watching a movie. Or how he and Peyton have their own mini training sessions that they both equally enjoy.

We have guests visiting and staying with us on a regular basis and it’s remarkable to see his ability to develop new relationships gets stronger all the time.  He may still alert to sounds outside, but he can think through these situations and de-escalate in a way that he was not able to before. He and Fritz can co-exist peacefully 99% of the time. He’s happy to go for walks, play a game, or engage in training.

Mutually Beneficial Training

As good as I feel that I have been able to help Frodo with his challenges, it’s also worth noting the way in which he helps me with mine. These last few years have presented the most challenging transitional period of my life. Learning how to become a mom, in the wake of losing my own, has left me with many sleepless nights. Training with Frodo has allowed me to maintain a very real connection to my mother. It also gives me the opportunity to slow down and become in tune with the present moment.

“Training feels a lot like meditation when you do it right.”

Training feels a lot like meditation when you do it right. Every time you take the time to train with your dog you are getting insights into their needs and their unique perspective on the world around them, and there is something exquisitely therapeutic about that process.

What Did His Training Look Like?

If you’re interested in learning how to implement this type of training with a dog that is experiencing similar behavioral issues, I offer many self-study courses and LIVE virtual classrooms that will show you step-by-step what to do.

Brian, Peyton, Frodo & Beatrix

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