TRUE TALES: Loki, a new dog
A charming pup is convinced the world is against him! It takes patience and positive training to teach him how to relax.
This February, my friend, Thressa, asked if I could help her dog, Loki, a ten-year-old Portuguese Water Dog who is extremely well trained at all the basic commands but has been plagued by lifelong anxieties. He is fiercely afraid of other dogs and hypervigilant about anything coming near him, his humans, home, or car, reacting with loud barking, growling, and lunging at the perceived danger. None of their three previous trainers had been able to help Loki be more comfortable in the world. Thressa wanted Loki to enjoy walks around their neighborhood and hikes through parks with her, not pulling at his leash, scrambling to return to the safety of his home or car. She also had plans to meet up with friends, family, and their dogs later this summer but was anxious herself about how that could even be possible. After reading my newsletters and other socials, she became hopeful that I might be the missing link in their training. I immediately recognized that Loki is a “reactive dog,” and I agreed to offer my advice to help lower his anxiety.
We got together once or twice a week for two months. We made some seemingly minor adjustments to Loki’s world, such as not feeding him in a bowl and preventing his access to a window view, that had major positive effects. We identified his triggers and then modified his reactive behavior by using fun focus games, lots of Loki’s favorite treats, and calming activities, building positive associations with all of Loki’s triggers and teaching him how to relax. This process not only helped Loki but gave Thressa the tools to feel more in control of situations at home and out on walks. She reframed her mindset from “Oh no, here comes a dog!” to “Oh good! Here’s an opportunity for Loki to reframe his mindset.” We kept track of Loki and Thressa’s “wins” and “areas that weren’t quite there yet” and narrowed the gap between them every week. By the end of two months, we had changed threats into challenges and then successes, counting daily wins instead of disappointments.
Working with Thressa and Loki turned into a power-up experience for all of us. I was delighted when Thressa said, “Working with you has been the best thing that ever happened to me and Loki!”