Harold the Labrador – Another TTouch Success Story

Harold feeling more confident with a Thundershirt & Balance Leash.

 

We frequently see such remarkable changes in the behavior of dogs in a few sessions that it seems miraculous. The shift in Harold’s behavior created just such a miracle for his human family!

In each week-long Tellington TTouch Training for Companion Animals we include a “client day” when local folks are invited to bring dogs (and sometimes kitties) with issues. Practitionrs have the opportunity to work with these animals in order to hone their skills of working with the humans as well as the dogs.

During one of the North Carolina trainings several years ago, Amber Alsobrooks brought her black Lab mix, Harold, to a client session. Because Harold had a history of biting I worked with him as a demo instead of turning him over to a student. He responded so well that after 30 minutes he was integrated into the class and TTouched by several students.  The Alsobrooks are not your average dog companions. They have been rescuing dogs for many years but were stumped by the behavior of Harold.

Because the primary issue was Harold’s aggressive behavior toward guests in the Alsobrooks home, I offered to do a second session with Herald on his home territory. So on a Tuesday evening after the class, a small group of us went to the home of Amber and her husband, Dave.

Laura Livingston brought her husband, Anthony who filmed the session and we had the support of Laura, Juel Duke, Deidra Chitwood, Patricia Terill, and  Kelly, a friend of Ambers.

I began the work with Harold in the back yard because of the trauma still associated with the biting incident seven years ago. Harold had bitten Amber’s mother when she entered the house alone. Harold was new to the family and had not yet met Amber’s mother.  He growled at her when she came into the house and when she tried to restrain him he bit her on the leg. Since that day Harold barks uninterrupted when a visitor enters the house, even when he’s in his large crate at the small entrance between the living room and the kitchen.  They initially tried putting Harold upstairs in the bedroom but he barked so much they gave up on the idea and had not been able to have company in their home in the ensuing years.

I had Amber bring “Harold” out into the back yard wearing his own Gentle Leader harness that we had rigged up with the leash across the chest, fastening it to the far side ring so it was our “super balance leash” set up. I left the head collar on to calm him. Harold did not bark at us when he came out of the house on leash. It was a good beginning.I began by dropping small treats on the grass. After about 3 minutes moving through the labyrinth we had set up in the back yard, he was able to take the food quietly from my hand. It was clear that he remembered me from last week’s session. He greeted me with a softly wagging tail and sat down with no signs of stress.At first Harold rolled onto his back in the Labyrinth but I asked him to and he was able to do it as I TTouched his ears.

 We worked Harold through the labyrinth and cones, and he went to everyone for treats and was totally unconcerned. Amber and Dave could hardly believe their eyes. But the shift had already occurred at the training two days before. We did about 15 minutes of TTouch on his face and shoulders while we walked him in homing pigeon between Amber and me.

   Next we went inside the house – first with just 5 of us! The living room was very small and I cannot even imagine the stress of having four excited dogs in this space. It looked about 12 by 12 feet with a couch, 2 stuffed chairs and a large coffee table- not enough room for dogs and guests.

Small or not, by the end of 30 minutes Herald was sitting in the living room with Amber’s friend, Dave, Amber, myself, and a couple of other students.

By the time we finished, we left two happy people and a happy dog. One of my suggestions I made was replace the slipper, hard and noise bottom of the crate with a non-slip surface in Harold’s crate to eliminate the noise and slipperiness of his nails.

We had Harold sit before approaching Juel Duke who was sitting sideways to us all so Harold could look at her , other people were sitting around the yard so he could greet them one at a time.

The following letter from Dave tells the rest of the story.

 

On Apr 16, 2010, Dave Alsobrooks wrote:

Dear Linda,

On behalf of everyone in our household, we want to thank you for helping us define new possibilities for our family.

Seven years ago, we fostered a handsome lab-mix named Harold. He has been with us ever since. Harold has soulful eyes, and is very loyal, loving and affectionate with both of his parents. Within our family unit, we can always count on Harold to do the right thing, and it’s evident he always wants to make us happy.

Unfortunately Harold behaves very differently when people come into our home.

For the past 6 years, having company in our home has come with increased stress and anxiety for Harold, and subsequently, everyone else in our family. It’s obvious Harold, who always strives to please us, associates visitors with potential threats to our family.  At best, Harold is obviously anxious and on guard around visitors. At worst, Harold constantly barks and has even bitten once and twice began to bloat with company present. The latter resulted in trips to the emergency vet and gastropexy surgery. We’ve tried numerous interventions based on advice of animal behaviorists, trainers, and veterinarians that run the gamut of inclusion, seclusion, behavior modification, increased exercise, medication, etc. These efforts have fallen short in putting everyone, including Harold, at any sort of ease.

As a result we have increasingly limited visitors to our house. We often ask people to call before they arrive for short visits and keep to quick conversations on the porch.  The one time in the past two years when we had overnight guests, we boarded Harold without his 3 canine siblings, which was stressful for him.

We’ve really wanted visitors and Harold to be able to enjoy a quiet, safe environment, even if there was limited direct contact. But increasingly, we’ve resigned ourselves to the notion of not having ‘normal’ interactions in our home.

When I first brought Harold to visit your class at Paws4Ever, he was more calm and open to interactions with you and your students. Although Harold is less anxious and aggressive in neutral territory, he still displays more typical “Velcro dog,” behaviors such as staying close by my side, irregular breathing when closely approached by others, etc. During this class, I saw something wonderful happen. Twice I was able to leave Harold with another person (I can’t ever remember doing this), while they utilized your TTouch methods. The second time I left and came back, three people were interacting with Harold, who was wagging his tail in a relaxed manner. He looked over at me, but instead of pulling towards me, he turned back to the practitioners to enjoy more of their interaction. That was a big moment! My goal had been for Harold to have some positive human interaction in a neutral territory and that had been achieved. This class exceeded my expectations. I was elated, and optimistic for the first time in years.

When I heard of your plan to come to our home and bring several students to visit and interact with Harold, I was excited and nervous at the same time.  It had been at least 5 years since Harold was allowed to interact directly with more than one or two carefully selected guests at a time.

Upon your arrival in our yard, Harold did bark. He quickly decided to voluntarily enter his crate and was often quiet. The first moment of truth was bringing him into our yard with everyone present. He didn’t bark at anyone! Within the first 2 minutes of your direct contact with him, his eyes softened, his tail wagged, and he even lied down! Wearing his Thundershirt™ and special balance lead, he seemed to enjoy our time in the ‘maze,’ including when you introduced a new person to give him treats.

One by one, Harold eventually met everyone, including one of our friends who has experienced Harold’s stress first hand, and was amazed at his difference in behavior. Amazingly, he was not wary or untrusting, but actually beginning to seek people out for interaction (specifically, more TTouch!).  Typically Harold ‘freezes,’ and stops breathing regularly when people approach even outside of our home, but utilizing the TTouch methods you demonstrated on his shoulders and head, with the ear slides, always seemed to ‘bring him back.’

Then the biggest test and success of the day occurred when you went inside with Dave, Harold, and me. I had to practice my quick coherence technique to calm myself when you suggested everyone come inside!

Not since 2004 had so many people been in our home, with Harold in the same room!  Again, one by one Harold enjoyed TTouch interactions and some treats with several people. Dave and I were amazed – still no barking, and his body posture was relaxed! 

In addition to showing us ways to help calm Harold with the balance lead, the TTouch strokes, and the Thundershirt, you made other suggestions which we had not yet considered. This included not allowing other dogs in the same room with Harold and company at the same time. We had gotten so used to only secluding Harold while all the other dogs were allowed to interact with our guests. Surely, this only heightened his distress.  Also, as you pointed out, the cushion in Harold’s self-selected safe place would often slide around in the bottom of the crate. This was another easy fix which will contribute to Harold feeling safe.

Since your last visit, my mother-in-law came to visit us for the entire weekend, and was the first person to use our guest room in three years. We introduced them in our neighborhood outside of our home. I showed her how to approach from the side, and to use basic TTouch methods. We all entered the house together, incident free. For the first several hours we kept the other dogs upstairs, so the environment was calm and quiet.  My mother-in-law told Harold, “I respect you, and I want us to be friends.” To which he replied with a wagging tail. It was a successful visit!

Since your visit, we’ve begun utilizing several of the techniques with all of our other dogs, and we try to give them all some individual time with us. Everyone is so much more content.  Some of theses suggestions have also been helpful to animals we work with post disaster (typically house fires), which almost always leave pets extremely anxious.  The changes in our dogs, and these dogs, are a testament to your techniques!

 

-Amber & Dave Alsobrooks

 

© 2012, Linda Tellington-Jones. All rights reserved.

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