Last in a series
Fear is a miserable emotion. It happens in-the-moment, before there is time to think. And it can be dangerous. Whether a threat is real or imagined you need to either get the heck outa there or drive off a scary monster – who might retaliate.
Stimpy had trembled and hidden from visitors, but later chased those beasts while snapping at their heels. He’d improved. While his good leader Amy entertained guests, he stayed busy in the other room extracting bits of sustenance from challenging food toys and puzzles. Not bad.
Amy now wanted Stimpy by her side as she swilled red wine with her pals. Was she dreaming? But if he could stay occupied… We knew that if he eyeballed another alien invader (anyone other than Amy) he could wig-out and relapse. She needed to keep him working.
So I told Amy, that social butterfly, to continue squirrelling her hungry dog away in the bedroom with a food toy prior to her friends arriving. After everybody was seated, settled, and focused on their Cabernet she would bring Stimpy out on-leash to find – a “lick mat” smeared with whatever he could not resist. Dogs will labor for extended periods, focusing on the narrow food-packed grooves, to reach every bit of liver pâte, peanut butter, or whatever. And when they’re done, they are tired.
I also schooled Amy in teaching Stimpy to touch his nose to a target stick, which earned him an immediate click and a treat. Anytime he appeared tense or vigilant she would extend her Clik Stik ©, tell Stimpy “Target,” and then reinforce him with a click and a tidbit. Many species have learned to cooperate with humans, earning clicks and tasty morsels.
Research-based behavior modification was certainly helpful but Stimpy’s improvement began with his leader; he needed her empathy in order to succeed. He’s more peaceful now but he’s still not the party animal Amy had hoped would amuse her pals with parlor tricks. Actually, they were impressed with his targeting skills but they were inspired by Amy’s kindness.
For help with behavior problems, you can sign-up for a Zoom Group Conference on my website, drjeffnichol.com.
Dr. Jeff Nichol is a residency-trained veterinary behaviorist. He provides consultations in-person and in groups by Zoom (drjeffnichol.com). Each week he shares a blog and a video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at drjeffnichol.com. Email pet behavior or physical questions to or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.